Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser

The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser
Weight: 1 lb
Method of Disposal: return to my grandmother


My grandmother has been trying to get me to read this book for years, but I kept putting it off. There were several reasons. The main one being that I (wrongly) thought we had very little in common and because we've had some rough patches. Also, The Swan House is a real place. It is a mansion. I have zero desire to look at, read about, and think about mansions. They are useless and tasteless, in my opinion.

A couple weeks ago I visited my grandparents. My grandmother was about to have surgery on her knees, and we were all hoping for a quick recovery. We talked a lot, and we had a really good time. She told me stories from her past (as did my grandfather) and there were many I had not heard. It changed me, and my feelings shifted dramatically. I went from keeping this book at a distance to having an overwhelming desire to sit down and read it all in one day. I wanted to understand her through reading it. I am not sure if that is possible, but I did enjoy the book in spite of myself.

It was a multi-genre novel set in historic Atlanta. I enjoyed learning about my city while reading it, and the mysteries kept me going. There was something wonderful about it that I cannot put my finger on. There was something about the wealthy boarding school girls that drew me in even as my resentment surfaced. I saw the trite descriptions of class and race at every turn. I left this book with a mixing of feelings. I can mostly only think about all the things I didn’t like, and yet I did not dislike the book. I know everything was overly simplified, and the story verged on “white man’s burden” material. I had to skim through some of the more lengthy religious proclamations without fully reading them. They were so frustrating and totally took me out of the story when I was completely sucked in. And yet and yet and yet…

What does it all mean in the context of my grandmother?

Friday, September 17, 2010

OutrageoUS: The Photographs the editors of US Magazine
Weight: 2.3 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donation

This little embarrassing remainder from my teenage-hood came into my possession after I realized that there were two pictures of Gillian Anderson, one of Geri Halliwell, and one of Tori Amos included in its pages. All women I was intrigued by. I took a quick look through the pages once again before tossing it into the donation box. It is like throwing out a landmine. I would hate for someone to find that book in my house. It was fun to see the shifting and ridiculous faces of fame and fortune. My new fascination, Julianne Moore has withstood the changing times. Unfortunately, so has Matt Damon. At least, to a degree. I am fairly confident that Tom Cruise would no longer be one of the first faces you saw in a book like this, with no one at his side like the others had. Just the words, “Icons and Ingenues.” Claire Danes and Sarah Mechelle Gellar look far too young to be in the sexy positions you do not see them in as often now that they are not playing teenagers on tv.

The truth is that I am still a little bit shameless. I tossed the book in a box like it was so much trash and then went back 5 minutes later to tear out the two pictures of Ms. Anderson. You cannot claim that I am not loyal, but you could probably argue that I have trouble letting go.
Ah well. We’re not perfect, are we?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Over 800 Pages of Western Civilization

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Jacques Barzun
Weight: 3.5 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donation

I was in my junior year of high school. The girl I had known since fourth grade sat next to me in AP European History, and we tried to have a good time making jokes and passing notes. She always did better on exams than I did. She was far more skilled in the cramming arena than most other students—now she is even good at studying.

That year we were assigned the task of reading From Dawn to Decadence, and it was painful. I think everyone in that room, with the exception of a boy-genius named Michael Smith, struggled through the 800+ pages of European History. Oh, it was SO painful. I would like to tell you that I have held onto the book all this time so that I could revisit it. Maybe it would not be so bad now. I might be older, wiser, and more inquisitive? Somehow, I doubt it. I am not going to risk it anyway. No way will I suffer through that book again. No, I think I held onto it as a trophy. An “I lived through this” trophy—not that I am keen to admit it so maybe trophy is not the right word. A personal and secret memento of book-reading gone bad?

All that being said, I felt a certain leap in my heart when I saw it on the bookshelf. It was beckoning me, and I rejoiced in finally being able to put it out once and for all. I am packing it up tonight, and I hope to never lay eyes on it again. Good riddance.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Death Can and Will Happen--What Will You Do With The Body?

By Lisa Takeuchi Cullen
Weight: ½ lb
Method of Disposal: Donating

I have had an unfortunate problem lately. I cannot stop thinking about death, and it is unpleasant for me. I have never had this problem. Being someone who pokes painful bruises and peels off scabs, I picked Remember Me off my shelf and began reading. I was not at all impressed with the writing skills of the author and was tempted to put it down many times. I always finish a book though--with the exception of Shadow of the Dolls. The only book that was so bad I not only put it down but returned it to the bookstore after getting 15 pages in. I never return things. Anyway, back to the point. Remember Me was written by someone who makes bad jokes and seems distracted from her topic.

That said I still learned a little. I will impart some of it to you in hopes that you will be able to resist the urge to rush out to the bookstore and get this book right away. If you must read it please let me know in the next week, and I will save this copy for you.

Things I now know:

 Sometimes people have doves released at funerals. There have been a few horror stories about this being done improperly. In one case, a flock of doves was released by a trainer. A hawk swooped in, grabbed a dove, pushed it to the ground, and began gorging itself on the little bird in front of all the onlookers. Was it a sign?
 You can get coffin furniture. Why only use it once? http://www.casketfurniture.com/
 You can be mummified with your animals. http://www.summum.org/mummification/’
 You can be turned into a diamond. http://www.lifegem.com/?gclid=CL6dwebDiKQCFdVb2godJGSQJQ
 I have trouble reading about people dying right now without crying. Despite myself and the writing.

I am not sure what I will do with this new information, but I have it. That’s something. Right?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"I was completely suprised and repulsed..."

The Woman’s Bible Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Weight: 1.1 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donation

Elizabeth Cady Stanton is best known for her involvement in the suffrage movement and her involvement in the creation of the Declaration of Sentiments, which was read at what is often considered to be the first women’s rights convention in the United States. She, unfortunately, died about two decades before women were given the right to vote, but her activism influenced many people and policies. She is one of the most recognized white American Feminists.

Elizabeth Stanton also wrote The Woman’s Bible with 26 other women, and it caused quite the ruckus—many say it put an end to Stanton’s ability to fight for suffrage. It sold well and was read by many, but a lot of suffragettes denied its usefulness for fear that it would make the whole movement look too radical/bad. The Woman’s Bible takes on the common biblical interpretation that women are subservient to men. The authors used historical and cultural contexts, as well as a new interpretation to show that women were created as men’s equals.

I read this book in 8th grade, and I enjoyed it at the time as I had started to question the Christianity I had heard about growing up. I do not care too much for it now, as I have no feelings of connection with any religion. I reserve some respect, though, because of what it means to those who do connect deeply with religion and what it took for Stanton to help write it and put her name on it. It is an important component in the history of women in my country, and it has influenced my place in the world now. That is why I have held onto it.

I did not think it would be all that inflammatory in the present world, but that was not too smart of me. If you look at modern reviews of the book people either love it or they hate it. The feminists rave about it and many a review written by devoted Christian women call it an atrocity. Take a look at Amazon. The hilarity ensues with each new post. I will leave you with this little nugget from someone with the username GRAM:

“I was completely surprised and repulsed by its feminist stance. I couldn't bear to read much of it as I believe the Bible is the unerring Word of God. Women's stature in organized church has grown significantly and I would not want my daughter's and granddaughter's minds poisoned by these ideas. I have several women friends who have gone into the ministry and have been very successful. I know this is an old writing but it came off my Kindle the minute I saw the problems Stantan had been trying to express. She must have been a terribly abused girl to have such bitterness.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"The cup is raised, the toast is made yet again..."

Weight: 5.2 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donating

I wanted to get rid of a heavy and large book today. I am about to take my donations in, and I wanted to get a good one in the box before leaving. I have chosen the encyclopedia of rock because it is a little over 5 lbs. It was given to me by Vallan when we began dating a few years ago. She was trying to give me a lesson in quality music. She said she would make notes throughout the book to let me know who I should pay particular attention to. I suppose she was not impressed with my collection. Music is very important to her, and she has an ear for talent.

The book includes many wonderful artists and albums, but it is not something I need anymore. I do not need the weight—of the book or of that relationship. The bottom left of the book, on the spine, has some damage from our first pit bull foster, Maelie, who use to chew on our stuff fairly often. I use to like that addition to the book. It made it feel more like a memory embodied than just an encyclopedia, an alphabetical and numerical list. Despite the damage, I am sure it will find a new home with someone else.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

OWL: Overwhelmingly Large Telescope, Earthgrazers, and Omega Centauri

Oxford Astronomy Encyclopedia: An A-Z Guide to the Universe
General Editor: Sir Patrick Moore
Weight: 3 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donation

This book is chock-full of definitions that enthrall me and entertain me each time I open it, but I will inevitably forget all of them by the end of the week. My brain just does not seem to retain any information that hints at the inclusion of numbers and formulas. I think this is part of what my fascination with astronomy is about. I cannot understand it, and there are so many questions that will have to go unanswered. I don’t even know that I can ask them. Perhaps some theories will supplement not knowing but, luckily, they will not replace my confusion with definitive answers. It is something I can get lost in when I am not looking for a way out.

Just please do not ask me any questions on the topic. I have no answers. I just like to believe that the false colors they put into the photographs of galaxies and planet compositions are really out there somewhere and that sometime, when I finally lose my mind, I will believe I am out there swimming in it, unscathed by heat, lack of oxygen, or time. There is very little more comforting than the obscurity of the Universe.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"The Lesbians Will Define Who is Lesbian."

POMOSEXUALS: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality
Edited by Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel
Weight: 9.3 oz
Method of Disposal: Giving to Tracy

I hate to be giving Tracy yet another book about gender and sexuality that I did not enjoy all that much, but here I am doing it again. The good news is that a book about pomosexuals, no matter how much it disappoints, is still better than just any kind of reading. I am also, apparently, the only one who got bored while reading this book. It seems as if it received 12 five star reviews on Amazon and on Urban Dictionary the first definition for “pomosexual” that comes up is the exact subtitle of this book.

I guess I am starting to feel the same way about people’s sexual escapades as I do about coming out stories. I use to find them enthralling, empowering, and rejuvenating. Now, I just get bored. I love sex, filth, and fucking. I love bliss, passion, and safe words. I like sex in bathrooms, on buses, and in bedrooms. BDSM, role playing, polyamory, kissing, cuddling, sex toys, serial monogamy, and pornography. Throw it at me. I will probably like it. But a book needs to be more than that unless I am just trying to masturbate for awhile. I want to learn something! I don’t want to deal with everyone’s egos and bragging rights. I have seen enough dirt brushed off other people’s shoulders. It has a place in the world, and it is important, this book, but it has no place in my hands. I am over it.

There were a few interesting essays, and I love several of the writers. Their other books are great. I am glad to hear about so many people busting out of the rigid gay/lesbian binary and even the bisexual trianary. I like the gender fucking and the fun. I JUST WANT MORE. Is that so much to ask?! I am starting to think that it is.

I hope that I am wrong about this book, and that it will find a more compatible companion in Tracy who will hopefully be able to dig out the components I missed in my irritation. We shall see…

Monday, September 6, 2010

"I can't write it enough times to make it look the way I feel."

Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Weight: 12 oz.
Method of Disposal: Donation

I picked this book up when I was working my latest bookstore stint. I love young adult and teenage literature, and it caught my eye. Parents were upset about it, kids were asking for it by name, and the author was prolific. I was curious. It was also one of a handful of books that did not have a white person’s face on the cover in the teenage section.

It is about a sixteen year old boy, Steve Harmon, who is in jail and on trial for felony murder for being a lookout, if he was even that. The book is written in the form of a screenplay. There are just a few perfect pictures placed throughout the book at just the right times.

Things I loved:
• I appreciate the author trying out a style not often seen in the genre.
• I like the well-placed photos.
• I love it when children’s authors treat their audience as competent and intelligent human beings. Myers does this, and he does not shy away from difficult things, hence the reason so many parents got pissed off.
• The book does not avoid the topic of systemic racism.
• I thought the book review questions at the back were somewhat useful.

Things I wish would happen:
• I wish this book was one of many books on the shelves in the young adult/teenage section that had black leading characters and voices. Unfortunately, it is one of few. I think it could be misunderstood, attacked, and not allowed to reach its full potential in these circumstances. On the one hand, it shows the world a bunch of hoodlums in Harlem living the life of crime but, on the other, it humanizes these “hoodlums.” And if I had a third hand, it is a part of reality that people who are not considered to be white are more likely to be arrested and jailed—not because they are the only people committing crimes. Racism runs deep in our systems and codes.
• I would also like a little more time alone with Steve Harmon before the robbery. I feel like I did not get a clear view of him as a person during that time. There were a few cliché moments, though they kind of worked since Steve was supposedly writing the play/those moments as you were reading it.

Neither here nor there:
• The form will aggravate some kids, but it will enthrall others. It will also get the book read more often. I know from working in bookstores that many kids pick the book on the list with the shortest number of pages, but when that fails they flip through the pages to see the size of the font and whatnot. Monster looks like a book they can read fast, and it is.

I don’t know what else to say. I think it is a useful and good book. It was not riveting or life-changing, but it holds its place in the world. It would probably be best utilized in an 8th/9th grade setting.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

"I can't remember seing a single newborn child. And yet, there are always new people to replace the ones who have vanished."

In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster
Weight: just under half a pound
Method of Disposal: Giving away to a friend

I purchased this book nine years ago, and I cannot believe it has taken me this long to read it. I am sad that I have read it just in time to get of rid of it. I don’t even know where to begin.

Anna Blume goes into a city she will likely never be able to leave again in search of her brother. The city is made up of a starving homeless population of people who crave death above most anything and have ceased giving birth. As people die an elusive, distant, and constantly changing government demands that the bodies be taken to facilities that then turn the remains into energy. Most of the buildings are now in rubbles and people live in constant fear of catching cold or falling. This city shadows one like you might find anywhere across the United States. As the city crumbles and shifts, the landmarks and conveniences fade away as do people’s memories. Snippets of what the world use to be like are found here and there, but people are mostly just focused on survival. Anna, the narrator, has the somewhat unique position of someone who gave up luxury and life to come to the city. A different life is not so distant in time, but is possibly unattainable in reality and almost impossible in her mind.

I do not know if the gloom that has crowded into my head, my heart, and my house stands on its own, or if this book has seeped into those places making everything that is darkness seem larger. I do not know how to put the book down now that I have read the final page. I do not feel adequate to write about it, talk about it, or really even think about it. I thought it was incredible. I will be reading much more from Paul Auster in the future. I hear this is not his best work so I have a lot to look forward to.

Ignoring my negative energy for a time, I think it is important to also recognize the hope, love, and determination of the characters in the novel. There are people of all sorts in this book, and you will be able to recognize some of them even in their most unrecognizable forms. If you have not read it you should go to the library and check it out. Let me know what you think. Maybe by then I will have figured out what to say about it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Temper Tantrum

WOOF: Writers on Dogs Edited by Lee Montgomery
Weight: 1 lb
Method of Disposal: Giving to Heather

Each time I do laundry I clean the lint trap and slowly slowly slowy the black hairs of my Phoenix are vanishing. They are leaving my carpet, my clothes, and my air filters. I spent our time together trying to rid the house of his fur, but each time I pull out that lint trap my body recoils with the repetitive realization that our life together is officially over. There is no amount of desperation, pleading, or rationalizing that will change the fact that I will never be able to hold that white beard in my hands again and kiss that beautiful snout. Phoenix is gone, and I struggle to act like I am not a five year old throwing a temper tantrum about it. Still. But I am.

Today, I am getting rid of WOOF, which is an anthology written by people about dogs they love and have loved. It was given to me by Vallan, and it is one of the few books about human/dog relationships that I have enjoyed. I will confess that I cried through some of the essays, and sometimes I was really frustrated with an author or two. AND I still will never understand why someone would go to a breeder when they could get an amazing friend from a shelter or a rescue.

I am giving this book to my friend Heather who is an incredible and strong woman. She is also my co-worker, and five days a week she has to answer the phones at the shelter and listen to all the bullshit excuses people give for being irresponsible and inhumane. She has done this for over six years, and I don’t know how. I am giving her WOOF because she deserves to hear from people who would do anything for the animal(s) in their lives. I hope it helps to balance out some of the pain.