Thursday, September 30, 2004

How Empire Works

Arundhati Roy's book An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire is insightful and chilling, yet ultimately hopeful. The book consists of seven essays and speeches that range from language, the media, Indian politics, American politics, treatment of protesters, treatment of the poor, and the global economy. Roy calls a spade a spade, nothing is sacred if it oppresses, murders, or disregards the wishes of ordinary people. It is difficult to make any kind of concise summary of all of these essays. The book is a must read for people who are interested in power politics and how it all plays out in one nation and around the world. So here is a sampling of some of Roy's thoughts:

for most people in the world peace is war--a daily battle against hunger, thirst, and the violation of their dignity. Wars are often the end result of a flawed peace, a putative peace. And it is the flaws, the systemic flaws in what is normally considered to be "peace," that we ought to be writing about...We have to use our skills and imagination and our art, to recreate the rhythms of the endless crisis of normality, and in doing so, expose the policies and processes that make ordinary things--food, water, shelter, and dignity--such a distant dream for ordinary people.("Peace is War")
On Iraq:
if Saddam Hussein was evil enough to merit the most elaborate, openly declared assassination attempt in history, then surely those who supported him ought at least to be tried for war crimes? (Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy) Operation Iraqi Freedom, Tony Blair assures us, is about returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people. That is, returning Iraqi oil to the Iraqi people via corporate multinationals. Like Shell, like Chevron, like Halliburton. Or are we missing the plot here? Perhaps Halliburton is actually an Iraqi company? Perhaps U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney (who was former director of Halliburton) is a closet Iraqi? ("The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire")
On the thinking that people like President Lula of Brazil or Nelson Mandela can actually change the way a government works:
To imagine that a leader's personal charisma and resume of struggle will dent the corporate cartel is to have no understanding of how capitalism works, or for that matter how power works. Radical change will not be negotiated by government; it can only be enforced by people. ("Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?")
On non-violent resistance movements:
If opportunism and expediency come at the cost of our beliefs, then there is nothing to separate us from the mainstream politicians. If it is justice that we want, it must be justice and equal rights for all--not only for special interest groups with special interest prejudices. That is non-negotiable. ("How Deep Shall We Dig")
And finally, on freedom:
It is important to remember that our freedoms, such as they are, were not given to us by any government, they have been wrested by us. If we do not use them, if we do not test them from time to time, they atrophy. If we do not guard them constantly, they will be taken away from us. If we do not demand more and more, we will be left with less and less. ("Peace is War")

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Second Hand Report on the Book Conference

My Bookman at his store manager's conference in Florida reports that Tom Wolfe (yup, that Tom Wolfe) was a very interesting man. He talked about his novels, writing in general and told stories about when he was a journalist. And he just called to report that he had just finished hearing Lemony Snicket talk. He said it was the most fun he has ever had at an author event. There was something with an accordion and audience participation and falling over dead. I am green (and just about every other color too) with envy.

Things of Interest

I'm always a sucker for a list and Sam Jordison has his list of top ten books where location is everything at the Guardian. And Cherry Potter grouses about women choosing Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice as the fictional man they'd most like to go on a date with. Potter wonders

What message is this Darcy fixation sending to men? On the one hand, women say they want men who are emotionally intelligent, sensitive, flexible, who enjoy sharing equally and are fun to be with. But these same women are swooning over a fictional character who is the epitome of the dominant patriarchal male. No wonder men are confused.
I can understand the appeal of Mr. Darcy: handsome, rich, smart, witty. He'd be an interesting date. The question wasn't what fictional character would you most like to marry. I think Ms. Potter is getting a little too worked up over nothing much. After all, would it be better if most women prefer Heathcliff? Here is a site about the history of punctuation (via Bookninja),!;"--().

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Pieces of Interest

The Treasury Department is being sued by Arcade Publishing and three trade groups representing publishers and authors. The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control wrote and enforces regulations that do not allow Americans to trade with countries our goverment designates as enemies. What thos amounts to when it comes to books is that American editors are unable to edit books from places like Cuba or Iran. I hope the Treasury Department loses this battle. (link via Bookslut. Note: The NYT requires free resgistration to read their articles.) An interview with Arthur Phillips and praise for the British Museum at Bookbrowse:

Hemingway’s tyrannical proverb haunts writing classes and roils the sleep of the lonely would-be novelist, who in relentless dreams and depressing reality alike feels himself drowning in Uncle Ernest’s quasi-papal bull. "Write what I know? What I know… But what," the author frets, "if I don’t know anything?" In that case, not to worry, for there is always the British Museum.
And finally, Scotland's booktown:Wigtown (I wonder if they could do something about the name?)

Up, Up and Away

I sent my Bookman off to his store manager's conference this morning; to one of the few parts of Florida that has not yet been leveled by a hurricane. He will be there the rest of the week yukkin it up with authors, publishers and other bookstore managers. It is this yearly conference pilgrimage that makes me contemplate now and again changing my non-career as accidental technology expert at the local nonprofit for which I am employed. Don't get me wrong, I work at a great place, but I don't get to go to a conference every year where I get free goodies. My Bookman does enough damage on his own, bringing home books and CDs and t-shirts. But, I think, with an obscene pleasure, just how much the two of us could haul home. But there are a few drawbacks to my imagined career change that keep me where I'm at. First, through experience, I know I do not like retail. The customer is always right philosophy is not one I can swallow. At least at my current job I can tell people they are wrong. Then I think, but maybe books are different. Second, I hate retail hours. It's rare that my Bookman gets two days off in a row and sometimes he goes 10 days without a day off. But then I think, maybe it'd be okay since I'd be at a bookstore. In the end, however, the thing that holds me back most is the huge pay cut I'd have to take in order to switch. I've finally worked my way into a decent salary and I'd lose it all to start as a bookseller for less than $10 an hour. Granted I'd work my way up and eventually make a living wage again, but I don't think I'm ready to do something like that at this time. So I send my Bookman off and anxiously await his return to hear all about it and to paw through the goodies. I hate waiting.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Say Your Prayers

As if the Left Behind books weren't enough, now there are Christian romance novels:

"It has to capture all the reality of being single, thinking all the time that you don't necessarily want to be single, and how do you balance that need with your true feelings about each man," she said. But for Ms. Billerbeck, authenticity also means a heroine who connects not only with a man but with the Lord as well. "The character always has to slow down and hear what God is saying to them," she said last weekend while attending the third annual convention of Christian romance and fiction writers. "I try to present Jesus in a way that shows he's relevant to modern life."
Publishers are now thinking about a line of Christian chick-lit, novels that "typically feature Bridget Jones types looking for the right man, the right chocolate, the right friends - and the right relationship with God." So don't bother flipping through the pages looking for "the good parts."

No Flowers for New O'Keefe Biography

I saw the review of a new biography of one of my favorite artists, Georgia O'Keefe, in the NYT Book Review. Unfortunately the reviewer didn't appear to think much of it. "O'Keeffe's early travails and triumphs make for a riveting story, even in Drohojowska-Philp's merely workmanlike pages" says the reviewer of the book, Full Bloom by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp. And then later on, "Yet as the pages turn, Drohojowska-Philp's account of O'Keeffe's life (like all the others I have read) becomes a fairly tiresome catalog of friends, enemies, love affairs, homes, vacations, illnesses, exhibitions, reviews, sales and awards." At least Drohojowska-Philp can take comfort in the knowledge that her's isn't the only book about O'Keefe that turns into a tiresome catalog. Not the kind of review that inspires me to want to read the book. I guess I will just stick to admiring the art.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Flip Flop

Montaigne, in his essay, "On the Inconstancy of our Actions," surprised me. I thought for sure he'd be squarely on the side of the need for constancy, but no. He in fact finds "it strange to find men of understanding sometimes taking such trouble to match up the pieces, seeing that vacillation seems to me to be the most common and blatant defect of our nature." He even quotes Publius: "It's a bad resolution which can never be changed!" Far from believing constancy to be the goal, Montaigne, while recognizing the virtue in it, realizes the near impossibility of it:

We are entirely made up of bits and pieces, woven together so diversely and so shapelessly that each one of them pulls its own way at every moment. And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and other people. 'Let me convince you that it is a hard task to be always the same man' [Seneca].
We follow our inclinations and our appetites. What we decide today will be different next week. Montaigne insists we should not worry or be surprised if the man who was brave in battle yesterday is a coward today. It all depends on circumstances. Our human natures are so inconstant that we are even "brought by vice itself to 'do good.'" But, warns Montainge, we should judge 'doing good' only by our intentions. We can say a man that does a good deed for the wrong reasons did a good act but we cannot say the man himself is good. This is why "one courageous action must not be taken as proof that a man really is brave; a man who is truly brave will always be brave on all occasions." I should think that the few people who are truly constant can't be very interesting. They are the ones who never change their minds even when there is overwhelming evidence against them. They harbor no doubts and therefore cannot change and grow. I think Montaigne is right in this essay. No one should be surprised about anyone's inconstancy, it should be expected. And so what? "It is not the act of a settled judgment to judge us simply by our outward deeds: we must probe right down inside and find out what principles make things move; but since this is a deep and chancy undertaking, I would that fewer people would concern themselves with it." Next week's Montaigne essay, in honor of the presidential debates: "On a Ready or Hesitant Delivery"

Friday, September 24, 2004

Local Yokels

F. Scott Fitzgerald's St. Paul Minnesota birthplace becomes a National Literary Landmark. There are pictures too. And you can listen to the story, just scroll about half way down the page. Lise Lunge-Larson talks about her newest book for children The Hidden Folk. She was born in Norway but now lives in Duluth Minnesota and is creating a garden to attract hidden folk.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Alphabets and Goddesses Continued

And now, I continue with my quibbling over Alphabet Versus the Goddess. Shlain zooms through human evolution, stopping where it pleases him and using what is useful while ignoring what is not. On his way through human development he takes a huge detour to talk about brain development and the whole left brain/right brain thing. Shlain blames the left brain for ruining the right brain's sense of wholeness and oneness with nature. The left brain created the ego and the ego created dualistic thinking which then led us to reasoning and logic. In the other hemisphere, the right brain deals with emotions and images and "holism." This is all generally acceptable. What I have difficulty with is how Shlain sets up the right side of the brain as belonging to the feminine and a romantically conceptualized idyllic past where the Goddess ruled and the world was at peace. Shlain places the left brain squarely to the masculine which relishes war and blood and death. I am always bothered when arguments are based on essentialism and the traditional split between masculine and feminine. It's as if there are no women who are not logical or blood thirsty and no men who are nurturing emotional. Shlain also places handedness into the mix by first stating that the vast majority of humans are right handed. So what has that got to do with things? Well, the right hand is controlled by the masculine left brain and the left hand is controlled by the feminine right brain. The right hand is the hand that throws the spear and kills. The left hand is the one that holds the babies and nurtures. Can I just say that from a personal experience perspective my left hand has nothing to do with nurturing? Yes, if I hold a baby it gets held in my left hand but then so does the laundry basket. I am a right handed person, of course the baby or the basket goes into my left hand so it leaves my right hand free to do things like hold a bottle for the baby which takes considerably more hand control than holding the baby or open doors or manipulate the washing machine controls. Neurologist Marsel Mesulam says that science has not figured out handedness in humans. Our hands have identical genetic composition and there should be no reason why one is favored over the other. But apparently Shlain has figured out handedness. Maybe he should tell the neurologists. Shlain goes on to talk about speech which is primarily a left brain function. Speaking, however, does engage the right brain in listening for the emotional content of words and evaluating nonverbal cues from the speaker. Shlain insists that the spoken word is "the result of delicately balanced assignments of the feminine and the masculine sides of the brain" and that the invention of writing "completely upset this balance." While both sides of the brain are engaged in the process of speech, Shlain posits that writing is almost entirely left brained. Writing is linear, logical and abstract and engages our right hand only. In writing and reading the right brain is not engaged in interpreting nonverbal clues. "Writing made the left brain," suggests Shlain, "and the aggressive right hand, dominant over the right. The triumphant march of literacy that began five thousand years ago conquered right-brain values, and with them, the Goddess. Patriarchy and misogyny have been the inevitable result." Inevitable? Somehow I don't think so. Before Shlain launched into his whole left brain/right brain foray he should have done a bit more research. In her book The Midnight Disease, Alice Flaherty, a neurologist, also gives a lesson about brain function. She explains that a modular hypothesis of the brain isn't actually valid. It was originally created back before we were able to really explain what the brain was doing and was useful for explaining brain injuries to only one part of the brain. These days we have a more "connectionist" way of looking at the brain. We have learned that skills are not isolated modules in the brain but exist as a network inside a network that "can be divided up as finely as patience will tolerate." When it comes to writing, it takes more than the left brain to do it. Flaherty explains:

The task of writing, for instance, beyond the desire to write the sentence, requires the ability to generate an appropriate idea, to translate it from "mentalese" into English, to generate words in their written form, to find a pen, to hold it correctly on the paper, to respond to the fact that at first nothing comes out of the pen by shaking it a few times, to do so without getting ink on your clothes, to form the letters correctly, and to simultaneously read the sentence for errors. As all this is going on, the next sentence probably is already being generated.
And while it is true that writing and reading do not engage the right hemisphere of the brain in interpretations of vocal inflections like speech does, many people, especially when they read, "add imaginary vocal inflections to the text." Still others will read under their breath. Most of us have at the least a "faint inner voice and ear when we read and write." Literacy also didn't become widespread until about the time of the ancient Greek alphabet. And it wasn't until about the 19th century that reading was done silently. I'd like to fault Shlain for falling into the trap of dualistic thinking himself by assigning masculine and feminine traits to the right and left sides of the brain. Every single one of his chapters are also broken into dueling aspects image/word, hunter/gatherers, verbal/nonverbal. He continues to perpetuate either/or thinking. He needs to brush up on his feminist and post-structuralist theory both of which work to break down a dualistic world view. It is possible to say that writing eliminated the Goddess. But I don't believe it can be said that writing was the cause. I think writing was more of an instrument. In my perspective writing, is non-gendered and value neutral. It can be used for good and it can be used for ill. It can be used to foster communication and it can be used to lie. I think Shlain is approaching writing and the Goddess from the wrong direction. He should be looking at it as a piece of a larger puzzle instead of the answer to the puzzle. As I said yesterday, I have only read through chapter six. I shall continue on and let you know if Shlain manages to convince me to change my position. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

What Would Lestat Do?

Anne Rice loses it over some bad reader reviews at (via Bookninja) and now readers are leaving comments trying to make Rice feel better. Is there something sad and pathetic about this whole thing, or is it just me?

Alphabets and Goddesses

At the risk of having to eat my words as it were, I feel compelled to begin picking apart Leonard Shlain's arguments in his book The Alphabet and the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. I have read through the end of chapter six and have so many page points marking pages and passages I am in danger of running out of page points and not being able to properly close the book. If this was not a library book I would have scrawled all over the pages by this point. The trouble is, where to begin? Perhaps a brief mention of what Shlain's thesis is is in order here. But before that, I have to complain that Shlain must think the reader's of his book are stupid because just in case you might not know he is talking about a important concept, he italicizes it for you. A feminine outlook is holisitc and concrete and a masculine outlook is linear and abstract. We also perceive images in an all-at-once manner; with the advent of abstract thinking came the concepts of us and them; and did you know that lobes of the human brain are functionally different? Shlain's editor should have disabled the man's italics function in his word processing program. Now that I've gotten that out of the way... Shlain argues that one of the "pernicious" effects of literacy that has gone "unnoticed" is that "writing subliminally fosters a patriarchal outlook" and alphabetic writing in particular, "diminishes feminine values and with them women's power in the culture." Of course, this being a book about how writing destroyed the Goddess he quickly turns to religion and boldly declares that the Old Testament "was the first alphabetic written work to influence future ages." Really? I'm sure such a statement back in the day would have been quite a surprise to the authors of earlier pieces of writing. I would have gone with him if he had said "one of the most influential." But I can't agree with his statement as it stands. And it is only one of a slew of sweeping statements that he has made thus far. He continues on to say that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are "exemplars" of patriarchy. I'm with him on that one. "Each monotheistic religion features an imageless Father deity whose authority shines through His revealed Word, sanctified in its written form." Also true. But then: "Conceiving of a deity who has no concrete image prepares the way for the kind of abstract thinking that inevitably leads to law codes, dualistic philosophy, and objective science, the signature of Western culture." Leaving objective science out of it since it is a rather recent invention, the whole thing smacks of a chicken-or-egg argument. Which came first? An abstract deity or dualistic thinking and law codes? Couldn't an abstract deity have risen just as easily from a law ridden dualistic culture rather than the other way around? And didn't we go through Egypt and ancient Greece and Rome before we arrived at Judaism, Christianity and Islam? Neither Plato nor Aristotle were Jewish or Christian but yet they are both abstract dualistic thinkers to the 100th degree. Yes, the three big religions certainly perpetuated patriarchy and yes, the Old Testament has had a huge cultural influence in the west and certainly codified what was already in existence, but stamp out the Goddess? She was already gone before that. But perhaps Shlain will see fit to enlighten me more as I read on through this book I promised tinLizzy I would read. I have more quibbles which I will foist on you poor readers, but at the risk of going on too long, I will stop this one here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Reader Privacy

From the folks over at Reader Privacy:

the US Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the SAFE Act (S-1709), authored by Senators Larry Craig of Idaho and Richard Durbin of Illinois. The SAFE Act both increases the effectiveness of antiterrorism efforts and protects the civil liberties of law-abiding U.S. citizens and residents. It is a bi-partisan bill supported by Republicans and Democrats. Among other things, the SAFE Act restores the protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records that were eliminated by Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The SAFE Act is supported by virtually the entire US book industry (publishers, distributors and booksellers as represented by companies large and small plus the American Booksellers Association, etc.), plus the American Library Association, the writer's group PEN, over 350 cities and counties as well as four states, and over 170,000 people who have signed our petition.
For more information visit Reader Privacy. And be sure to contact your senator too.

Truth, Justice and Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy interviewed at Alternet. Here's a sample:

Actually, you know, I did write non-fictional essays before I wrote "The God Of Small Things." It's just that I wasn't that well-known a person. When people define me as a writer and an activist, I say that sounds like a "sofa-cum-bed" or something. In fact, isn't literature supposed to be placed at the heart of the world? What you do and what you look at and what you write about, whether it's personal or social or political, whether it's about an insane aunt or whether it's about the invasion of a country – I don't think you can avoid looking at it as a comment on society and on yourself... more on your self. No writer can dodge the glare of literature. Most people see it as something I'm sacrificing in order to do something else, but I don't see it that way. I'm a pretty instinctive person and I know that when I'm ready to write another novel, I will write it. I'm not suffering through this process of writing non-fiction, even though the act of writing fiction is a more joyful act than these essays which address very searing situations. You do feel that they're wrenched out of you in some way, but at the same time they're both writing and I don't think I've ever not been a writer. That is my medium and that's what I do. I'm not endorsing any action or any kind of politics. I'm not a football star that's endorsing the fact that we shouldn't cut down the rainforest or something. I'm not external to myself in this. I'm doing what I do.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The King

The Guardian has a wonderful, long article/interview with Stephen King. The final book in the Dark Tower series goes on sale tomorrow. Does this mean King is done writing?

Is King going to retire now that he has completed a novel sequence that he regards as a summation of all his other works and in which lots of characters from his other books appear? "I'm retiring from all the bullshit. I don't want another book contract." He doesn't plan to work much for the next few months; instead, he's going to campaign for John Kerry in the swing state of Florida. "We're not in good odour with the world under Bush. And it's a shame because we took a bad hit on September 11 and Bush pissed away a lot of goodwill." Kerry, however, doesn't fill him with enthusiasm, not least because King favoured anti-war Democratic candidate Howard Dean. He has another book written, though he says it's "a mess", and has yet to decide whether anybody else should read it. It is about a writer's widow, and came about when he returned home from his hospitalisation for pneumonia to find his wife redecorating his office.
I don't think we've heard the last of him yet.

Toni Morrison: Good with Breakfast

I was listening to NPR this morning while eating breakfast and much to my delight they did a segment on Toni Morrison. Five of her books are being republished in paperback and she was asked to write a new introduction to each of them. In the interview she talks about the ghosts that have influenced and inspired her writing. NPR also has Morrison reading an excerpt from Beloved.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Three Down and One More to Go

I read The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde as slowly as I could in an attempt to enjoy every nuance and catch as many jokes as possible. It all began well enough, one or two chapters a day. But then I reached The Point of No Return and had to keep reading. A daily meandering through one or two chapters became a headlong rush through four or five until the expanse of time known as The Weekend opened up and I found that I simply could not stop, nor did I want to. And so this afternoon I finished the book in a big greedy gobble with only minor interruptions for things like laundry, lunch and a kiss from the Husband (The kiss was a pleasant interruption, don't get me wrong. And so was lunch especially since the Husband made it. Laundry however, not so much). The Well of Lost Plots is book three in Fforde's Thursday Next series. In this book Thursday has retired to the Well, where unpublished books reside, to hide from Goliath and recuperate after her adventures in Lost in a Good Book. Needless to say Thursday finds herself in the middle of things including a murder investigation. Anymore than that I cannot reveal. The Husband is in the middle of The Eyre Affair and I don't want to give anything away. I am on a, I hope brief, hiatus from Thursday's world. I do not yet have a copy of the fourth book, Something Rotten. But, it should be making its way to me by means of the US Postal Service. It is just as well that I don't have it yet as I would be inclined to start reading it today. With good intentions, of course, to read it slowly and purposefully, a few chapters at a time. And we all know how that story ends up. I am also glad that I don't have it because I have reached what readers of a favorite author or series dread, the last book. Something Rotten is not only the last book thus far published in the series, it is the only other book by Mr. Fforde that I have not read. A double whammy. And so, after this next Next book, I am forced to wait for who knows how long until another book is published. The anticipation of this is agony. While I await the arrival of Something Rotten I will return to Vanity Fair as well as begin a book from the library my friend tinLizzy has insisted I read so she can have someone to talk it over with: The Alphabet Versus the Goddess. As a result you, my vast horde of readers (if two or three can be said to constitute a horde or be considered vast for that matter), will also be subjected to the conversation. You have been warned.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


And so we come again to Montaigne. This week's essay is "On Schoolmasters' Learning." As Montaigne so thoroughly expressed in "On Educating Children," knowledge without wisdom, virtue or good judgment is worthless. And so in this essay he rails against those who teach children for a living solely for material gain and who do not themselves understand what it is they are teaching:

But what is worse, their pupils and their little charges are not nourished and fed by what they learn: the learning is passed from hand to hand with only one end in view: to show it off, to put into our accounts to entertain others with it, as though it were merely counters, useful for totting up and producing statements, but having no other use or currency
And even in these days we go to school so we can get a good job and make money. We work so hard to make sure kids are learning, we even have laws for testing what a student knows and mandates that no child should be left behind. "We readily inquire, 'Does he know Greek or Latin?' 'Can he write poetry or prose?' But what matters most is what we put last: 'Has he become better and wiser?'" Rote teaching and rote learning do not make a teacher or student who understands anything. Montaigne insists that if that is what an education is to be then it is better to have no education at all. "We work merely to fill the memory, leaving the understanding and the sense of right and wrong empty," says Montaigne, so that "All we do is look after the opinions and learning of others." As a result we end up with "professors of grammar who did research into the bad qualities of Ulysses yet know nothing of their own," and "orators whose studies led to talking about justice, not to being just." Knowing the theory of everything, Montaigne insists, doesn't matter if you don't also know how to put it into practice, a parrot could do as well as we do. "Learned we may be with another man's learning," says Montaigne, but "we can only be wise with wisdom of our own." And you don't get that from rote learning and multiple choice tests. Next week's Montaigen essay: "On the Inconstancy of Our Actions"

Friday, September 17, 2004


ecotonoha (via bookninja)

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Just When You Thought Hollywood Couldn't Sink Any Lower...

Paris Hilton is going to play Daisy in a remake of the film version of The Great Gatsby (via Maude. I'm not a fan of Gatsby or Fitzgerald in genreal, but I wouldn't wish Paris Hilton on anyone.

Love Your Librarian

Here's an article (via Bookninja) about Jessamyn West, "radical librarian" (wouldn't this make a great tv show title? I'd watch it. Couldn't be worse than the tripe that currently shows up on the tube). West is a 36 year old anti-Patriot Act activist librarian in Vermont who has come up with some creative signs for libraries. I think my favorite is the one that says "The FBI has not been here. (Watch closely for the removal of this sign)."

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Bits and Pieces

The Village Voice talks about fall books to look out for And, in case you haven't heard, The British Library has Shakespeare Quartos online that you can read. I think it is an amazing and wonderful thing they have done. The British Library is a fantastic place. If you have never been there and find yourself in London, you MUST go see. If I lived in London I would be there all the time. At the Guardian, test your spelling of some of the most misspelled words in English. I got 16 out of 23 correct. I spelled "embarrass" wrong, but I got "broccoli" correct. The Guardian scoring people were either being nice when then said "go to the top of the class" on the results page, or there are quite a few people that spell badly. And last, but not least, there is Artists for Peace, Justice & Civil Liberties (via NewPages. The site features images, writing, digital creations and audio.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Books: For All of Life's Moments Big or Small

The Guardian has an article about a novel that has changed your life or helped you through a crisis The project focused on women and they were allowed to choose only one book. "What one book..." is always a fun game to play. On any given day you could ask me the same question and I'd give a different answer each time. I don't think it is fair to say you can only choose one. Books are like potato chips in that way. So since I like lists and since the article made me think a little, here is a short list of books that have been and/or are important to me: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Hamlet by William Shakespeare Great Expectations by Charles Dickens Dune by Frank Herbert Job: A Comedy of Justice Robert Heinlein A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (poetry) by Adrienne Rich Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy A Room of One's Own (nonfiction) by Virginia Woolf Mind of My Mind by Octavia E Butler The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende Dawn by Octavia E. Butler Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury Yeah I know, I tossed in a nonfiction and a poetry book, but I couldn't help it. Ask me in a month and the list will probably change a little. Ask me in a year and there will be another book or two added. I can't add anything I've read recently. It takes time for a book to sink in and to gain perspective on life events and the books that were there. Feel free to add your own books. It's always interesting to find out what other people have special attachments to.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Common Errors

Here is a site for language lovers and haters: Common Errors in English. The site is run by a guy named Paul Brians who is, what else, an English professor. It has so much stuff you can spend hours there. I know I will be.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Losing Myself

Another Thursday Next book down and two more to go. Lost in a Good Book was great fun and caused me to laugh out loud several times or quiver in awe. The quivering in awe part happened upon Thursday's first visit to the Jurisfiction library which holds "Hundreds, thousands millions of books"

Hardbacks, paperbacks, leather bound, uncorrected proofs, handwritten manuscripts, everything. I stepped closer and rested my fingertips lightly against the pristine volumes. They felt warm to the touch, so I leaned closer and pressed my ear to the spines. I could hear a distant hum, the rumble of machinery, people talking, traffic, seagulls, laughter, waves on rocks, wind in the winter branches of trees, distant thunder, heavy rain, children playing, a blacksmith's hammer--a million sounds all happening together. And then, in a revelatory moment, the clouds slid back from my mind and a crystal-clear understanding of the very nature of books shone upon me. They weren't just collections of words arranged neatly on a page to give the impression of reality--each of these volumes was reality. The similarity of these books to the copies I had read back home was no more than the similarity a photograph has to its subject. These books were alive!
Just imagining a library like that made me wish I was Thursday Next. The thing that made me laugh out loud the most was the entire scene involving the Fiction Frenzy. A bookstore was have a big sale with huge markdowns on limited firsts and other must have items. Book people are generally thought of a low key laid back kind of folk, but not when it comes to bargains like these! There's punching and kicking and tackling and small arms fire and if you don't walk out with an injury, then you just didn't fight hard enough for that book you wanted. It's a hoot! I have The Well of Lost Plots waiting for me now and I don't want to rush to it, but I'm afraid I might not last long. In the mean time Vanity Fair languishes on my bedside pile.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

We Don't Need No Education

I came this close to not reading Montaigne's essay today, finding myself pleasantly Lost in a Good Book. But, alas, the Husband gets a rare weekend day off tomorrow and I knew I wouldn't want to read the long essay then. So I wrenched myself away from Thursday Next's doings and half-heartedly plunged into "On Educating Children." An appropriate essay for this time of year when I still get urges to go shopping for folders and notebooks. It becomes obvious quickly that the children Montaigne is writing about educating are boy children from families with money. All others need not apply. Of course I would so love to fault Montaigne for his lack of inclusiveness, but I cannot. The late 1500's is not a time known for its education of women and peasants, may as well send a donkey to school for all the good it would do. I am grateful times, though still not ideal, have changed. Montaigne wrote this essay for his friend Madame Diane de Foix, Countess of Gurson who was pregnant at the time with what she dutifully hoped was a son and heir. Montaigne, with no children of his own, and thought of as well educated, undertook this verbose essay. He begins by stating that "the greatest and most important difficulty known to human learning seems to lie in that area which treats how to bring up children and how to educate them." It's sort of like farming, he says, "the ploughing which precedes the planting is easy and sure; so is the planting itself: but as soon as what is planted springs to life, the raising of it is marked by great variety of methods and difficulty" (go ahead, laugh, I'm still chuckling). So what is a good parent with money to do? Why carefully select the best darn tootin'est tutor possible of course! The tutor should have character and intelligence and should have a "well-formed" rather than a "well-filled" brain. The tutor should not only require the boy to demonstrate what he has learned but also his understanding, "Spewing up food exactly as you have swallowed it is evidence of a failure to digest and assimilate it; the stomach has not done its job if, during concoction, it fails to change the substance and form of what it is given." In other words, no rote learning and regurgitation of facts, it is more important that the boy remember the behavior of Hannibal and Scipio rather than the date of the fall of Carthage. The boy's chief study should be philosophy because philosophy forms good judgment and character and is privileged to be concerned with everything. Games and sports will also be a good part of his studies:

racing, wrestling, music-making, dancing, hunting and the handling of arms and horses. I want his outward graces, his social ease and his physical dexterity to be moulded step by step with his soul. We are not bringing up a soul; we are not bringing up a body: we are bringing up a man. We must not split him in two. We must not bring up one without the other but, as Plato said, lead them abreast like a pair of horses harnessed together to the same shaft.
Good advice really. I had a college professor tell me something similar once when she saw that I regularly bicycled to school. "It's good to exercise the body as well as the mind," she told me, "they compliment each other." My first thought was to laugh. The only reason I biked was because I couldn't afford a car. As I made my way through grad school I quickly discovered that physical exercise was indeed a great way to clear my brain after hours of study and helped increase my endurance for study as well. I hated P.E. in grade school, hated it with a passion. I was not good at sports, but what I lacked in skill I generally made up for in enthusiasm. And even though I suffered horrors and embarrassments galore, I think it unfortunate that more and more schools are cutting back on P.E. Suffering and humiliation in P.E. is a tradition that should not be thrown away lightly. Anyway, back to Montaigne. Book-learning is great, says Montaigne, but it should only be the foundation from which education progresses: "This great world is the looking-glass in which we must gaze to come to know ourselves from the right slant." A boy must travel and see the world, mix with other people in foreign lands, learn their "humours" and manners and knock off his "corners by rubbing [his] brain against other people's." Too much devotion to studying books promotes a solitary or melancholy "complexion" and should be discouraged because it makes boys "unfit for mixing in polite society and distracts them from better things to do." The purpose of education is not to become a good grammarian or rhetorician, but to become "better and wiser." But if it turns out, that in spite of everything the pupil's disposition is
bizarre that he would rather hear a tall story than the account of a great voyage or wise discussion; that at the sound of the drum calling the youthful ardour of his comrades to arms he would turn aside for the drum of a troop of jugglers; that he would actually find it no more delightful and pleasant to return victorious covered with the dust of battle than after winning a prize for tennis or dancing: then I know no remedy except that his tutor should quickly strangle him when nobody is looking or apprentice him to make fairy-cakes in some goodly town--even if he were the heir of a Duke."
Strangulation is a bit harsh, though I am sure there are plenty of teachers who have had students they would like nothing than more than to strangle. Thankfully we have industries like Hollywood, publishing, and Monday night football to keep these no goods off the streets. Next week's essay: "On Schoolmaster's Learning" (Montaigne covers all the bases!)

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Holy Terror

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence by Mark Juergensmeyer is a book that should be read by everyone. Published in 2000 it misses the 9/11 tragedy but looks at the first attempt to take down the World Trade Center (the edition I linked to was revised in 2003. My copy is from the public library). Juergensmeyer also discusses Timothy McVeigh, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo that released sarin gas on the subway, Christian Identity, Palestine, Israel, Indian Sikhs, and Osama bin Laden. He uses these specific cases as a place from which to exam how and why such radical world views are created in the first place, what the goals of such views are and ways in which religious violence can be curtailed. The book is fascinating. When I began reading it I found myself laughing at the radical religious beliefs. What nuts! What kooks! How could they possibly believe such a thing? But it slowly sunk in that because I and other moderate individuals were part of the problem. It is so easy to not take fundamentalists seriously. By not taking them seriously we endanger ourselves. So when I stopped thinking they were all crazy I got scared. These people aren't loose cannons, they are serious, thoughtful, deliberate individuals and groups who are committed to their world views and will do whatever it takes to achieve them. While religions stress the peaceful aspect of their views, Juergensmeyer finds that all religions sanction violence when needed. Radical groups hold a world view that they are at war. It is a cosmic war being fought on this earth, good against evil and they are the soldiers of God. "One of the reasons a state of war is preferable," according to Juergensmeyer, "is that it gives moral justification to acts of violence."

The idea of warfare implies more than an attitude; ultimately it is a world view and an assertion of power. To live in a state of war is to live in a world in which individuals know who they are, why they have suffered, by whose hand they have been humiliated, and at what expense they have persevered. The concept of war provides cosmology, history, and eschatology and offers the reins of political control. Perhaps most important, it holds out the hope of victory and the means to achieve it. In images of cosmic was this victorious triumph is a grand moment of social and personal transformation, transcending all worldly limitations. One does not easily abandon such expectations. To be without such images of war is almost to be without hope itself.
Because of the religious concept of a cosmic war, the outcome must be absolute, there is no compromise or peace treaty to be made. As Juergensmeyer says, "A satanic enemy cannot be transformed; it can only be destroyed." There is much to be mulled over in this book. I feel as though I have a better understanding of religious terrorism, but it seems as though this book has just begun to delve into what the issues are and I haven't even mentioned half of what Juergensmeyer writes about. I need to do some more thinking about it. There is a long bibliography in the back of the book which I have not yet perused. I'm sure I will be adding a book or two to my reading list.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Controversy Continues

Paul Collins weighs in on the NEA not reading report:

Maybe Reading at Risk should really have been called Reading Several Genres Favored in a Certain Historical Period at Risk. Still, might the NEA's focus on these more allegedly artsy forms of reading be due to their social significance? Literary readers, we are primly informed by the NEA, are more likely than nonreaders to be involved in charity work. Whether this constitutes a meaningful and causal correlation, alas, is less obvious. A set of statistics buried in Reading at Risk shows "literary reading" rising hand in hand with income levels and education. Might we wonder whether people with the time and education to read novels might be better situated to provide charity in the first place? Why yes, we might wonder. But the NEA did not.

Watch Your Language

Alternet has an excerpt from George Lakoff's newest book Don't Think of an Elephant. He had an article somewhere on the web several months ago that talked about some of the ideas in the excerpt so it may seem familiar to you. The book is about the way language is used to frame political discourse:

Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview. It is not just language. The ideas are primary — and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas. There was another good example in the State of the Union address in January. This one was a remarkable metaphor to find in a State of the Union address. Bush said, "We do not need a permission slip to defend America." What is going on with a permission slip? He could have just said, "We won't ask permission." But talking about a permission slip is different. Think about when you last needed a permission slip. Think about who has to ask for a permission slip. Think about who is being asked. Think about the relationship between them. Those are the kinds of questions you need to ask if you are to understand contemporary political discourse.
A timely book as we start to look forward to the presidential debates next month.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Must Read Article

Robert McCrum has a long article in the Guardian in which he interviews writers about their hopes and fears regarding the upcoming presidential election. The writers quoted in the article are: Carl Hiaasen, Paul Auster, Norman Mailer, Nicholson Baker, Richard Ford, Deborah Eisenberg, Wallace Shawn, Siri Hustvedt, Jonathan Safran Foer, Junot Diaz, and ZZ Packer. The article is long but well worth the time in my humble opinion. And while you are at the Guardian, check out the hullabaloo over Penguin's new series of philosophical and revolutionary writers. While some of the charges leveled are right on, one can only hope that readers will become interested in reading more from these and other writers.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Something in the Eyre

I know the Thursday Next novels have been out for some time, but I just got around to reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. If you are heare reading this site it's a fair bet that you like books and since you like books you will like The Eyre Affair. The novel takes place in 1985 England and Thursday Next is SO-27, that's Special Operative level 27. SO-27 is LiteraTech. LiteraTechs investigate literary crimes. Thursday's world is full of them, forging literature by famous folk is a big money business. All this is pretty routine until Hades Acheron makes an appearance and kidnaps Jane Eyre right out of the book. Thursday must find and stop Hades before it is too late for Charlotte Bronte's beloved character. I don't want to tell too much because the book is delightfully detailed. It is a literary romp, an action adventure in a world where the line between fiction and reality becomes blurred. Jokes abound and character's have names like Paige Turner and Victor Analogy. The Ritz only ever puts on one play every Friday night, Richard III, and the house is always packed. That's because Richard has been turned into a sort of Rocky Horror Picture Show. The actors are chosen form the audience about a half hour before the play begins, and from the get go the audience is involved. Before Richard is able to speak his first line the audience shouts out "'When is the winter of our discontent?'" and of course Richard begins, "Now is the winter of our discontent." Richard continues, "made glorious summer by this son of York." And on the word 'summer" everyone in the audience puts on sunglasses and looks up at an imaginary sun. The play ends with a battle in which the entire audience partakes. Now that is good Shakespeare! I have Lost in a Good Book standing at the ready but don't want to jump in just yet. I'll save it for later in the week when I need a pick me up.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

All Work and No Play...

Montaigne's essay, "'Work Can Wait Till Tomorrow,'" is part book review and part scolding. First, the book review, one that any author would love to see:

It seems to me that I am justified in awarding the palm, above all our writers in French, to Jaques Amyot, not merely for the simplicity and purity of his language in which he excels all others, not for his constancy during such a long piece of work, not for the profundity of his knowledge in being able to disentangle an author so complex and thorny (for you can say what you like: I cannot understand the Greek, but everywhere in his translation I see a meaning so beautiful, so coherent and so consistent with itself that either he has definitely understood the true meaning of his author or else, from long frequentation with him, he has planted in his own soul a vigorous generic Idea of Plutarch's, and has at least foisted upon him nothing which belies him or contradicts him); but above all I am grateful to him for having chosen and selected so worthy and so appropriate a book to present to his country. Ignorant people like us would have been lost if that book had book had not brought us up out of the mire...
Montaigne had just read Jaques Amyot's translation of Plutarch's Lives (link to modern English translation). If I were an author I would be happy with a review filled with a quarter of Montaigne's praise. The rest of this short essay is, as I mentioned, a sort of scolding. One of the stories Plutarch relates is that of Rusticus who, while standing in the crowd listening to one of Plutarch's fascinating and edifying speeches, received a bundle of letters from no less an important person as the Emperor. But Rusticus put the letters in his pocket and did not read them until Plutarch's speech was finished. Now Plutarch and the crowd thought this was a great thing for Rusticus to do and praised his dignity. Montaigne, on the other hand, thinks Rusticus' actions were not very wise. For if you receive unexpected letters from the Emperor, you should read them immediately, no matter where you are or what you are doing. For not reading them until later may have "grave consequences." Plutarch relates another story about
how Archias, the Theban Tyrant, on the evening before Pelopidas executed his plan to kill him and so restore freedom to his country, was written to by another Archias, an Athenian, to inform him point by point of what was being prepared against him. This missive was delivered to him during dinner; he put off opening it, saying words which later became a Greek proverb: "Work can wait till tomorrow."
Not a very wise thing to do. Montaigne scolds, "In my opinion a wise man can...put off reading any news brought to him; but particularly if he holds some public office, to do so for his own interest or unpardonable." So the lessons are: a) Montaigne is a party-pooper and workaholic; b) if you are going into battle, if someone is out to get you, or you are a public servant, open your mail immediately; c) the rest of us can wait until tomorrow. Next week's Montaigne essay, a back to school special: "On Educating Children"

Library Tragedy in Germany

From the AP as reported in the International Herald Tribune

As many as 30,000 priceless books may have been destroyed by a fire that swept through an historic library in this eastern German city, authorities said Friday. Some 6,000 historical works--including a 1534 Martin Luther Bible--were saved by a human chain, which spirited them away from the flames. Officials were surveying the damage caused by the fire Thursday night in the Duchess Anna Amalia Library, housed in a 16th-century rococo palace in Weimar. The fire broke out in a top floor and raged for two hours before firefighters put it out. And investigation into the cause is underway. "A piece of the world's cultural heritage has been lost forever," said Culture Minister Christine Weiss. During the fire, workers managed to pass 6,000 books, including travel papers by the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, to safety before having to abandon their rescue attempts when the ceiling threatened to collapse.
(via The Literary Saloon

Friday, September 03, 2004

Something for a Chuckle

Emily Weinstein writes An Open Letter to Officials of the United States Government Regarding What's New in My Reproductive Area at McSweeney's. (via Maude

Got a Score to Settle?

Apparently so did the authors on writer and musician Brian Chikwava's top ten list of works by writers with a chip on their shoulders.

What Would Buffy Think?

The TLS has a review of a new biography of Bram Stoker:

"A sort of homicidal lunatic’s brothel in a crypt" was how Maurice Richardson characterized the temptingly ill-concealed psychopathology of the vampire legend, adding that Dracula in particular was "a kind of incestuous, necrophilous, oral, anal-sadistic all-in wrestling match". Dracula has always held a fatal fascination for critics: aside from the more obvious psychosexual interpretations it has been all things to all readers, from a Christian parable to an allegory of capitalism, while the Count’s identification with the foreign enemy has led to free copies of the novel being supplied as a matter of policy to American troops overseas. Paul Murray complains in this new biography that "Freudianism, Marxism and feminism" have produced readings based on insufficient biographical research and sets out to restore the author to the centre stage. In contrast to the critical free-for-all of these rootless, Rorschach-blot type readings, Murray--a Trinity man, like Stoker, and an Irish diplomat --is particularly strong on Stoker’s Irish context, which forms the heart of the book.
The is not definitive according to the reviewer, but a good addtion nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Vanity, Vanity

Well, I began reading Vanity Fair about a month and half ago in hopes of completing it before the movie came out. The movie opens today and I am only on page 225 out 680. I have been enjoying the book but it is slow going. Of course I could go to the movie anyway, but I don't want the movie to color my reading of the book. I doubt that the movie will get a long run, so it is looking very likely that I will be seeing it when it comes out on DVD. I am, however, curious to hear if the movie is any good. If you see it, drop me a comment or send an email and let me know what you thought.

Down and Out in the Humanities

Lindsay Waters, executive editor of the humanities at Harvard University Press, has an essay in the Village Voice and believes the humanities are in trouble:

If humanists do not keep firmly in mind what they are about, no one else will. Humanists study books and artifacts in order to find traces of our common humanity. I argue that there is a causal connection between the corporatist demand for increased productivity and the draining from all publications of any significance other than as a number. The humanities are in a crisis now because many of the presuppositions about what counts are absolutely inimical to the humanities. When books cease being complex media and become objects to quantify, then it follows that all the media that the humanities study lose value.
I see the point, but are the humanities really that bad off? I haven't been to college for quite some time now so I can't claim to have my finger on the pulse, but don't humanities people always grouse about not being important or taken seriously? Is this just more grousing and theatrics or is it a real concern? (I ask these questions as an unrepentent English major) Later in the article Waters says
The modern university takes the present organization of knowledge into separate disciplines, all those gated communities, as inevitable and natural as the categories of niche marketing. The blinkered professional who has become the norm is not an intellectual who reads promiscuously in the hope he or she might come upon a book that will change his or her life. There is something wrong about telling the young to curb their enthusiasms, for these are the signs of life in every field.
This has been the case with Universities even before I got there, it is nothing new. I don't agree with the "present organization" either. The sciences need the humanities just as much as the humanities need the sciences. There is a great book called The Life of Poetry by Muriel Rukeyser. The book discusses the importance and centrality of poetry in our lives and its importance as an interdiscplinary study. I highly recommend it for anyone interested or concerned about imagination, poetry and the sciences. It also provides a bit of historical perspective on the issues. If, kind reader, you are in the humanities or not far away from it, I would love to hear from you. Is there really a crisis? And if there is, what is your perspective?