Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Stupid Jokes That Unicorns Do Not Find Funny"--page 90

Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSeeney’s Book of Lists by the editors of McSweeney’s
Weight: 8. 5 oz
Method of Disposal: Leaving somewhere in Decatur, GA

I have so much love for McSweeney’s. So much that I feel I need to make a confession now…I just renewed my subscription despite the fact that I have no money and even though it must be a sin that goes against everything I am trying to do on this blog. I mean, I am getting rid of my books even as I have McSweeney’s arriving on my doorstep. I will let you know when I resolve this personal and moral dilemma.

It is because of this love that I purchased this book of lists last year. It is also because I read the most wondrous list of Chuck Norris facts in a Best American Nonrequired Reading collection around that time. Here is an example, “Chuck Norris doesn’t read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.” Which reminds me of the #1 Chuck Norris fan who always came into Waldenbooks looking for a new Norris book, but she never bought anything because there never was a new Norris book—but that is a whole other blog, I guess.

Overall, I did not find this book to be as hilarious as I expected, but it still had some excellent moments. I did not plan to get rid of it, and I have fond feelings for it. I am disbanding it now out of guilt about the free item I got from McSweeney’s for re-subscribing, which is, in fact, a bundle of three books that weigh about a pound.

I cannot remember my favorite lists so I will give you two random lists from the book to ponder.

• Aaliyah , Maura, Ewan, Osgood, Deepak, Uma, Ja Rule, Moe

2. FOUR WAYS MY LIFE IS LIKE PAC-MANS by John Crownover (p.111)
• Ever-present wail of sirens
• Relentlessly pursued by ghosts
• Occasionally eat some fruit
• Four special pills a day keep ghosts at bay

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland by Jan T. Gross
Weight: Amazon says 7.2 ounces, but it is far more heavy than that for so many reasons.
Method of Disposal: I am really not sure. Any suggestions? It might be donated.

I have been dreading writing this for days. Every time I think about it I fall asleep instead. It seems almost impossible to “review” a book like this because the history is so deplorable how would you ever be able to focus on the quality of the writing, or even the research? I was slightly critical when I first started reading it, but that faded away as my horror grew.

This book details the mass murder of 1,600 Jewish people by their own neighbors—in one day. These people were not ordered to do so, instead they acted on their own. Sure, there were leaders, cheerleaders, and those who were particularly brutal. The country had been groped and grappled by the USSR and Germany. But what does any of that mean? We, as people, are terrifying creatures.

There was one family who hid some of their neighbors. There were only a handful of survivors, and they still had to deal with life after the Germans established control. Mass murder was no longer allowed, but the camps were the alternative.
Sometimes, it is hard to understand the reason for reading so much gruesome detail. Is it just so that we always remember? Will it really make us act different? Do we enjoy the horror we feel? What is wrong with us? In this case, one thing this book succeeded in doing was confronting what the writer stated was a hidden history that the people of Poland were ashamed of. It went against the proposal that the Germans had been the villains, not any Poles.
The author writes the following:
…the history of a society can be conceived as a collective biography. And just as in a biography—which is also composed of discrete episodes—everything in the history of a society is in rapport with everything else. And if at some point in this collective biography a big lie is situated, then everything that comes afterward will be devoid of authenticity and laced with fear of discovery. And instead of living their own lives, members of such a community will be suspiciously glancing over their shoulders, trying to guess what others think about what they are doing(113).

I guess images, words, our environment changes us. I suppose we continue to remember the worst conceivable things, by reading about them or watching them, so that we can imprint them into our brain. This is wrong, this is right, this is what a hero looks like. We are all children trying to train ourselves how to be humane. Perhaps, if we study it hard enough, attempt to feel pain deep enough, we can put to rest the community and self-doubts the Stanford Prison Experiment raised. The truths that books like this expose, “regular” people can and will turn on their neighbors if they need a scapegoat bad enough. Look around the world now, look at the other mass-exterminations of people, look at all the violence. Where are we going? What are we doing? Where is justice and what does it look like? It is easy to feel like a child, to curl up in a fetal position, and fall asleep rather than deal with it all. Complacency.

All of that being said, I still feel like I am doing the memory and the people an injustice.

And that being said, if you go on Amazon 23 people gave the book 1 star and 29 people gave it 5 stars. The accuracy of the research comes under fire quite often, as research often does in these situations. I cannot claim to be an expert on Poland during World War II. I do know that far too many people died and were tortured, and that there is no good reason. Some people dispute 1,600 vs 200-300 people. 200-300 people. 200-300 people.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Life Among the Savages

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson
Weight: 11 ounces
Method of Disposal: Leaving somewhere in Decatur, GA

Shirley Jackson is a brilliant author and, in this case, amusing. This book is an autobiography, and it shows the chaos and interlinked thoughts of a mother and a housewife. The whole book is just detail after detail about regular family life. The first few pages are my favorite.

I do not have any stories tied to this book. I bought it from a used bookstore. It cost me $4.25, and it would have retailed at $11.95. I recommend it, though I know that there are people close to me who will not enjoy it. There are others that will love it. Just be prepared for hectic, inappropriate, and loving family life. This is the closest I come to trying to understand.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

God of Animals

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
Weight: 9.9 oz
Method of Disposal: Leaving somewhere in Decatur, GA

The God of Animals was found in the break room of a Barnes and Noble. It was an advanced reader’s edition, and no one had picked it up. It just sat there for days until I grabbed it, but I tucked it away and never read it. It wasn’t intentional. I just got distracted and forgot about it until I started this blog project.

I found it again recently, and I began reading it. I have since read that the depictions of horse farms and horse shows are entirely inaccurate. I find this to be a relief since it all seemed so deplorable, but it is also disappointing because good research is always important when writing fiction. I really do not know a lot about ranches and the whatnot. I am just now beginning to spend some time on a farm, and I do not think I will ever see those kinds of details—like breeding/birthing and euthanasia. Though, to give Aryn Kyle credit, I do not think she was ever trying to portray this particular ranch as the shining example of what all ranches are and should be. I am sure it was quite the opposite.

Regardless of the things I have heard, the book itself is good. I felt for the coming-of-age character, Alice, who was overlooked by almost everyone in her life. She had to lie, turn vicious, or act dangerously to get anyone she loved to pay attention to her. Her life is set on a ranch that ties together the disappointments of many, many people. Every character is a monster, an average person, and amazing. There is not one person who does not encompass all of these traits. Not one. The abuse of the animals is brutal and hard to read through, but it has a place in the novel. It is not gratuitous. In the end, I felt empty. I saw Alice move on, the others succumb to their own problems, the mother fade away without answering all of my questions about her (I cared for her so much), and I was still stuck there with a dead horse.

I don’t know what else to tell you. Humans are not better than their animal counterparts, but they are probably much worse. That came through to me loud and clear.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Isabella Collection

Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton 2006
So-Big Whale by Sheryl Berk 2000
The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone 1999
Curious George’s Are You Curious? Illustrations by H.A. Rey 1998
Walt Disney’s Peter Pan and Wendy 1981
Oh The Thinks You Can Think by Dr Seuss 1975
The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins 1967
The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders by Jack Prelutsky 2002
Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems 2006
My Mama Says There Aren’t Any Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, Creatures, Demons, Monsters, Fiends, Goblins, or Things by Judith Viorst 1973

Weight: 5 lbs
Method of Disposal: Giving to my niece, Isabella

I met my niece for the first time two days ago, and I am on track to see her again one more time tonight before she heads back to Colorado. I have collected some books for her, though I am not all that sure that the parents will want an additional 5 lbs of luggage. The prices keep going up on what you can carry. If not, I will ship it to her in the next couple weeks. I have put some incredible ones in the mix, despite the fact that I debated with myself all morning about whether or not I could let them go. I finally came to the conclusion that THE ONLY person who could have them other than me is Isabelle. So, I am a little selfish when it comes to my books—you should know that by now.

The two I had the most difficult time letting go of were Edwina and The Monster at the End of This Book. Edwina is a wonderful, modern, story about a dinosaur and the kid that cannot get along with her because he just knows she must be extinct. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie holds up a sign in protest that states, “This is not happening.” The Monster at the End of this Book is probably on my top ten favorite books of all time list. It is so much fun to read to kids, and they seem to love hearing it. I did. The graphics AND words are incredible. Grover tries so hard to stop you from turning each page, as he is afraid of the monster at the end of the book. This makes it an interactive book, and you are quickly drawn in—particularly if the story teller does a good job.

The So-Big Whale book is a plush book that I bought when I was 16 and have been saving for just the right child. I just like that it is a stuffed book. Madeleine, my dog, likes that too, unfortunately. I thought the Judith Viorst book was appropriate since it is almost Halloween. Peter Pan and Curious George were just to add some variety. I do not feel much of an attachment to them, though Peter Pan has my cousin’s childish handwriting scrolled across the back which is pretty cool. I added Your Personal Penguin because I LOVE Sandra Boynton and Penguins. I had been saving it for the perfect woman, but I am thinking that Isabella is just that. Not what I expected, but even better I suppose. The Thinks You Can Think encourages imagination and has fun pictures. The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders is full of short poems because kids should be introduced to fun poetry early.

The Digging-est Dog was mine as a child. I remember being in bed and falling asleep to my grandmother reading it. My name is written on the inside, in huge, fumbling, and insecure kid letters. I loved the dog in the book. He was a good dog gone bad. He had been kept unfairly cooped up and when he was free he just let loose and dug up the entire city to everyone’s dismay. I like that this dog was misunderstood, yelled at, and then understood/redeemed. They found a way to make his digging useful so that everyone was happy and that dog never had to go back to being in a cage again. There are a lot of adults who could learn from this book.

So, that’s it. 5 lbs of brilliant, life-changing literature for a tiny little girl who is growing older and bigger each and every day. I hope she enjoys chewing on them, falling asleep midway through them, and pointing out all the colorful animals in them while Rusty or Ann Marie try to read the actual text to her. Once these are devoured there are many more to come.

Monday, October 4, 2010

On Killing

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
Weight: 14 oz
Method of Disposal: Donate or give away if anyone wants it

It has been a long time since I read this book. I was in high school, and I bought it in hopes that I would better be able to understand what was about to happen in my world. It was after the attacks on the World Trade Center. It was after it dawned on me that my brother would be called to war sooner rather than later—I just did not know when. I did not have the money to buy the book so I got special permission from my “psychology” teacher to write about it and then asked my mom to buy it for me. I have no idea if she did or if I ended up trying some other avenue. I cannot remember, but here it is after all of these years.

I remember being intrigued by the author’s thesis that people, in general, have an innate resistance to killing. He writes about how many soldiers known to shoot accurately have missed their human targets or never even fired their guns throughout history. He says that in WWII we learned that “programming” or “conditioning” our soldiers would take a 15% firing rate and increase it to 90%.

Grossman challenges himself to fit a lot into a 366 page book. He writes about fight or flight, psychological trauma, violence in society, conditioning, individual vs group action, a variety of wars, rape, and so on. I do not remember the writing being particularly intriguing or well-composed. I know it is a basic overview because there is just too much to squeeze in, but I know I thought it had some value. I still think about it from time to time, when I am having certain conversations with people. I do not feel the need to revisit it, though I would read another book on this topic and have.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Where am I? What am I doing?"

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Weight: 2 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donation or give away if anyone wants it

I was fairly young when I first picked up this book, and I remember having trouble getting through the first 15 pages. It was because I did not understand the Russian names and was having trouble keeping them all in order. It felt like I was trying to read the book of Genesis in the Bible. I did not have that same trouble in the future, but I still think about it. I am so thankful I pushed through at that age, because this book was one of the best I have ever read. It is beautiful, through and through. And heartbreaking. And incredible.

I felt so close to Anna Karenina. I wanted to storm into the story and take her out of it. She was my friend, but I could not help her. The conclusion was bound to come—part of Tolstoy’s portrayal of fate and death. I always love an adulterous woman.

The other thing that I remember is that the last twenty pages felt tacked on and frustrated the hell out of me. Why do I care about a world without Anna? Why do I care about God and Christianity? I was only so impassioned because Tolstoy had led me there.

This is the kind of book I intimidate myself into not being able to write about. That is how much I liked it. There is nothing I could say that would not be a disgrace to the work. I recommend you read it. Goodbye Anna, I have always missed you.