Sunday, February 27, 2011

"You are so gracefully insane." -Sexton

Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental Institution
By Alex Beam
Weight: 1.3 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donating, unless you want it

I sheepishly admit that I bought this book in 2002 and did not read it until just a few days ago. This is not the first time this has happened here, but who wants to admit how many books they have carried around without reading, while still buying more? Not me. I saw this book while I was working for Waldenbooks, but I purchased it at this amazing place called Kudzu. It was a huge bargain and remainder book store with books for miles. I would buy a whole shopping cart worth. I use to go with my mom quite often, but I also went with a wonderful woman named Kristal, whom I worked with. Gracefully Insane cost me $7.99. Most of the books I bought were even less pricey. Not to mention, I had a job with a lot of hours and no bills—money for miles. Oh, how I wish that part could happen again…so bad.

Gracefully Insane was not what I expected, though I cannot really tell you what that was. The book was full of interesting and potentially trivial snippets that kept me entertained. I read it quickly and happily. I was intrigued with the famous people who had resided at McLeans, all the luxuries that were offered there throughout the years, and the overwhelming wealth of many of the tenants. It was also frustrating to realize just how different it was for rich folks than others. McLean made it a point, early on, to kick out the “paupers.” It would house Ray Charles, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Susanna Kaysen, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s brother, among others.

I do recommend it. It was interesting and easy to read. Let me know if you are willing to try it out.

Friday, February 25, 2011

"Hitler is a joke. He will soon disappear."

The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust
By Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin
Weight: 4.8 oz
Method of Disposal: Gave to a friend

This book was a hand-me-down from my mother. She read it and passed it along—probably in the year 2000. It has been awhile, but when I told her that I finally read it just a few days ago you could tell she remembered it well. I have read so many books that sometimes I only have a vague outline in my head of some of them, even some of my favorites. It is very sad but true. This is not the kind of book you forget.

This book is the memoir of Edith, and it shows her growing up during the Holocaust. She is Jewish, though not Orthodox. She is not familiar with all of the prayers and customs. She grows up in Vienna. At the start, she is laughing with her friends, talking about how no one could ever listen to the crazy ranting of Hitler. Then she is sent to a labor camp and, even then, she believes that it will all end soon. That it will be o.k. She only has to work for 6 months. Those 6 months draw further and further out, and her mother is sent to a concentration camp. Of course, no one knows what that means. She tries to get back to her, but in the end she receives some false papers showing she is not Jewish, goes underground, and eventually marries a Nazi, who is quite a jackass. This saves her life.

I picked this book up on a lunch break at work, and I had trouble putting it down long enough to get everything done and get home. I finished it that night. This woman has an incredible and terrifying story to tell. The book is easy to read, and it is written in a very accessible and not overly contemplative way. Her story shows how long it can take to believe what is incomprehensible, particularly when you are going through it. It shows how quickly people’s feelings can change from restrained/hidden hatred and/or desperation to full-on cruelty and abuse. And then it continues to get worse. I have handed it over to one friend and already have another asking for it. I do recommend that people read Edith’s story.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Star Light Star bright

Witness Iraq: A War Journal February-April 2003
Weight: 3.3 lbs
Method of Disposal: Donate?

My brother went to war in Iraq when I was in my junior year of college, and I was devastated. I felt like I lived in a state of panic, and it was hard to discuss it with some of my anti-war peers. My roommate at the time actually got angry with me when I asked to watch my brother on the news one night, because it cut into her ER time. She grumbled something about him killing people for a living. I hadn’t seen my brother in a year, and he would be on television for just a few minutes.
There were plenty of supportive and caring people, more than there were people like my roommate, but it seemed like no one really understood what I was trying to tell them if they hadn’t been through it. I only knew one other person, my dearest Liz M, who had a brother deploy and come back.

When someone you love is at war you become hyper-aware of locations and casualties mentioned on the news. You notice when there are gaps in email and chat messages. You send hundreds of letters, and you may even find yourself wishing on every falling star you see, drinking every shot with a “return home safe” toast, and pleading with the universe every time the clock strikes 11:11.

If you are me, you lack any tools on how to deal with the situation. You might start to do absurd things like purchase random books you really don’t want or watch documentaries you know you shouldn’t. Witness Iraq was one of those purchases. I didn’t want to see it, much less own it, but I felt compelled. I couldn’t stop myself. It was an absurd attempt to get closer to someone who seemed impossibly far away. It would not be the first or last time I would try to buy understanding, time, and proximity with no success. I have trouble letting this book go, even though I can never bring myself to look through it now, because of all the pain it and others like it hold within their pages. It seems important to have a constant reminder of that fear and worry, but I really don’t know why. It cannot be healthy.
My brother is currently safe and sound, with his baby and his wife, in the country he grew up in. It is still such a relief, though I always feel a twinge of dread in my gut reminding me that it could happen again. I find myself, still, quite enamored with and dependent on eyelashes, ladybugs, wells, dandelions, and birthday candles.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Greed and Neglect

(This picture shows Bogey, a dog with an embedded collar, who was later adopted into a great home with people who love him very much)

Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed. Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry by Gail A. Eisnitz
Weight: 1.3 lbs
Method of Disposal: Selling, unless you want it

I read this book at least 4 years into my vegetarian-ism, so I cannot claim that it changed me. It did, however, mean a lot to me. I found myself crying several times while reading this. It is impossible to examine the current U.S. meat industry without feeling horrified. We modify animals to die young and fat in small cages so that we can make the most profit off the meat available. This book shows how it is unhealthy for, not only the animals, but also for us. There is a large chunk of the book dedicated to children dying from eating beef and getting salmonella.

I have to believe that the majority of people I know would not be able to bring themselves to consume the meat they ingest if they were confronted, daily, with the abuse that these animals suffer. It is not enough to see a documentary or read a snippet about it in the daily paper. We are exposed to so much cruelty every day that it becomes almost normal, but if we had to face it head-on we could not bear it.

Animals have been so distanced from our compassion. We are raised, young, to believe that animals are something separate from us. We are trained to be able to kill them at will for our own personal benefit—only most of us are not ever actually faced with taking their lives. It is not surprising, then, that this book had to cover the human detriments of factory farms, as well as the animals. I appreciated that information because it gave me extra ammunition, but the truth is, that it should be enough to know that we are torturing living beings. That should stop us from this cruelty, but it doesn’t.

Eisnitz reminds us that, “one hamburger containing meat from as many as one hundred different animals, one infected animal can cross-contaminate sixteen tons of beef (159).” She then leads us into a discussion about how meat was not so dangerous decades ago. You could eat it rare far more readily without the risk of e coli or salmonella. She exposes the reasons why people might hide what occurs in meat houses, and she does not shy away from the mistreatment of workers. This book shows us several reasons why we should become more humane with our eating habits, and it also brings to life how little we have come along since The Jungle was published. I, personally, recommend that everyone read anything and everything they can get their hands on about the meat industry. Even if you do not decide to become vegetarian, you will consider fighting for change within the meat industry. We are killing people but, on a larger scale, we are forcing living creatures to endure incredible amounts of torture for the short time they are alive for our simplistic pleasures. There is a better way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dear Sarah

Dear Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Seperated (for a Year) by an Ocean
By Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery
Weight: 8 oz
Method of Disposal: Leaving somewhere, unless you want it

Dear Exile is another book from my Waldenbook days, and thus the first year or two of my friendship with Sarah G-A, whom I still love. We both purchased Dear Exile and read it. We thought we might end up writing each other important letters one day about feminism, books, and friendship. I would have been 16, maybe 17, at the time.

The book is, amazingly, still in impeccable condition and, much to my disappointment, it has no smell. Books usually have some fragrance. They smell old or new or, in the case of a particular children’s book we carried at Barnes and Nobel before it was recalled, like gasoline. It is one of the most wonderful things about an actual book.

They sell library and book perfume now so I guess it will be alright. I can spray Dear Exile with a Demeter fragrance before passing it on. I mean, if I am feeling dedicated. This book really might be in the exact same condition it was in when I bought it. How did that happen?

Before you think it, I did read it. I thought it was enjoyable but not life-changing. It was sweet and, like I said, it inspired a brief dream about letter writing way back when. One woman is in the Peace Corps and one woman is dating and living in her first real apartment. They obviously care about each other, and they write each other letters that make up this book. I guess I am sort of ambivalent about it.

I am not, however, ambivalent about how much fun it was to get to know Sarah G-A. through books, through working together, through Riot Grrrl, and through everything else in between. I am also not ambivalent about letter writing. I love it. I love mail. I love packages, letters, postcards, address labels, and stamps. I probably send out around 5 letters every week to a variety of friends all over the map, and it makes me quite happy. Who does not enjoy receiving real mail, not junk or bills? Holding this book releases all of these thoughts in me, and that is not such a bad thing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Celebrated Biography

No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Daniel Sugerman
Weight: 1.6 lbs
Method of Disposal: Recycling

I had a brief and inconsequential fascination with Jim Morrison when I was younger. I enjoyed listening to The Doors, and he seemed fairly attractive to me at the time. My taste in men has changed drastically. It use to be influenced much more by those around me and my own desires to fit in. Not that Jim Morrison was hung up in lockers and discussed in cafeterias amongst my peers, but I had heard plenty attractive adult women talk about his sexiness. I had seen the topless poster hanging up everywhere. Hell, I owned one. For the pre-teens I grew up with it was JTT, if you must know, and then it became Leonardo Dicaprio and then…I came out and stopped paying attention? I know in late high school some of the more depressed and dark crew I was wrapped up with got back in touch with their Morrison roots, all the while clinging to their Cobain fascination.

I know many people will be appalled, insulted, righteous, contrary, and/or , when I write that it was reading biographies about Jim Morrison that made me quit listening to The Doors forever and turn on Jim. He was an asshole. I remember reading about some of his exploits with women that horrified me. Things I would call sexual assault but that seemed to be represented more as glory and bravado. I started to think about the men who had made me uncomfortable or abused me in life, and then I tried to imagine those same men memorialized forever. Lusted after for ages. It made me nauseated. I just stopped, and I never looked back. Fuck you, Jim Morrison. Sex is great, nudity is lovely, pranks are fun, but there is a line that separates consent from force, and I think you crossed it. It is so easy to keep everyone safe and having fun, and yet…
I am recycling this book because I see no reason to pass down the history of this particular man.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Freedom From Fear

Freedom From Fear and Other Writings: Revised Edition by Aung San Suu Kyi
Weight: 10 oz
Method of Disposal: It is up for grabs. If no one asks for it I will leave it on a park bench somewhere.

I was in Colorado visiting my brother when Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest on November 13, 2010. He had just had a little baby, and there was a lot going on. The television was just on, temporarily, in the background but the excitement bubbled up, quietly, inside me. It is widely known that she had spent most of the last two decades under house arrest, through her husband’s death, amongst other things. There has been pressure from all over the world for her to be released. It was amazing that she was finally able to get out, though it wasn’t the first time she had been released. Let’s hope it is the last time she has to be.

The jubilation of her new freedom quickly faded, in the media, into a constant debate about if she would be able to unite the opposition, if she had any sway left, or if she would help or hurt the situation. It was sad to hear it all come on so fast, but there is a lot of work to be done still. The New Yorker had an article on her in the January 24th issue. She looked older and beautiful. She is presented as a calm and persistent woman. They did write about the younger generation being less patient, and brought up the anger of her children. I have really enjoyed interviews with her, video clips of her, and movies about her. She is incredible to watch.

I bought this book in December of 2009 when I went to a bookstore with my brother in Atlanta. I wanted to hear more directly from her. I had heard so much written by others about her. She gave a good, basic overview of the history in Burma. I believe she had originally written that part for young students, but it was helpful for me anyway. She wrote about her father, and she discussed her own role in politics. It is a collection of writings so you are brought to several places in a short time. Let me know if you want it.