Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Freedom is more important than sharing, Jill. This is my city."

The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson
Weight: 7.2 oz
Method of Disposal: Recycling

This book was terrible.  I am not talking about the writing, though I could.  I was horrified by the blatant political propaganda and repeated messages about freedom and responsibility.  All people older than twelve are dead and the children of the world are left to fend for themselves.  In one town, which seems to have previously been a wealthy area, there is a girl named Lisa.  She has a passion for challenge and an innate need to rule other people.  She decides to create a city and, though she could not have done it without the help of the hundreds of children she has enlisted, she is determined that it will be HER city.  She will rule as a loving, but stern leader.  There will be no voting or democracy because that might ruin everything.  Everyone must work for what they have and earn their right to protection and food, even toys.  

Here is a snippet of a story Lisa tells her little brother in an attempt to get him to understand her thoughts and their lives:
                                The other kings couldn’t figure it out.  Why was he so rich?  It seemed crazy to let the
                peasants be free and have an army that they didn’t have to join.
                                But those kings never saw the stream of people in line to buy the king’s advice.  He got
                Smarter and richer all the time.  And the happier and freer his people became, the harder they
                Worked.  The harder they worked, the wealthier they became.  The wealthier they became,
                The more time they had to face and solve their problems (113). 

I took this book home for free when it was being thrown out.  I am very glad to report that I did not pay for it.  I do not want children, friends, family to read it.  I do not want to read it again.  To the recycling bin!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Black White and Jewish

Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self  by Rebecca Walker
Weight:  1.1 lbs
Method of Disposal: Leaving somewhere or giving away to the first person to ask for it

In 11th grade I (finally) had a lot of friends.  I had been on the periphery since coming out as a lesbian in 8th grade, but people had started to move on and grow up.  Or get intrigued.  My close friend, Chris, ultimately lived with me, and we were always playing with fire or drinking too many screwdrivers.  I dated several beautiful and interesting women.  Some of my teachers seemed particularly invested in me, and I was doing okay despite the underage drinking.  

I was also receiving your standard anti-gay death threats, was taunted on a weekly basis in front of my entire sociology class, had my car keyed, and my nose shattered.  

The memories blur together, particularly with Mrs. Galloway, my 11th grade English teacher.  I remember, and I fabricate.  I was dressed as Marilyn Monroe for a history class, complete with blond wig and beauty mark.  If you know me at all you will know that is a strange get-up for me, but I did love me some Marilyn.  I excitedly told Mrs. Galloway about it.  I ran to her class early so I would have a few minutes of talking time before the other students filtered in.  She was blowing bubbles into a hallway of teenagers.  A video camera was involved.  My camera, not allowed on school property.  Later that day an administrator would try to take it away thinking it was a cd player.  I remember trying to tell Mrs. Galloway about one of the worst days of my then life and not succeeding.  It was difficult to explain that day in sociology class—how they has finally found a way to wound me.  Did they even do anything different from all the other days?  I just remember that once I was away from them I started crying and could not stop for hours.  I had to leave school early.
I remember when she asked us to write about our feelings the day after 9/11.  We would then read them to the class.  I wrote about my brother, my fear of him going to war and then I volunteered to read it aloud.  I got up in front of the class and the further I went the more I choked on air.  I could not breathe.  I would never again be quite comfortable when speaking in public.

Mrs. Galloway introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut and Flannery O’Conner.  She talked about teaching during the race riots and how much she admired and worried about her students.

I hated everything about the oppressive South before I met her.  She taught me that we had some incredible literature and strong women.  I did not have to ignore the negative aspects in order to appreciate the good.  That many of The South’s shining moments arouse out of adversity.

She let us read and write about books for extra credit.  I read as many as possible and then some.  She would lend me her own.  I remember when she gave me Rebecca Walker’s Black White and Jewish and Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.  She let me keep these, and I have kept, carried, and cherished them.

I read Black White and Jewish last week.  I read every recommendation she offered me but, for some reason, owning this book allowed me to put it off indefinitely.  It’s too bad because after I finished it I could see why she might have given it to me then.  It would be useful for a teenager, particularly one struggling to find her place.

I do not think Walker realized the full potential of her writing in this work.  It seemed like she had a lot of experiences that she knew were linked together, but that she could not work out in a rhythmic way.  As a teenager I would have loved the style, but as an adult it seemed to stretch out and periodically falter.  Sometimes she seemed to backpeddle, or she included some unnecessary details that took you out of the moment.  Maybe it was how the experiences were ordered.

This is not to say that I was ever bored.  I never was.  I was invested in every word.  I admire her courage and honesty.  I was caught off guard by how much she opened up.  This is a good book.
Unlike many wise readers, I was stunned by the inactions of her mother Alice Walker.  I naively did expect so much more out of her.

Rebecca stands on her own.  She had a strong and important voice.  I feel privileged to have been allowed this insight into her life and now it is time to pass it on to someone else.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Riding in Cars with Boys

Riding in Cars With Boys  by Beverly Donofrio
Weight: 2.4 oz
Method of Disposal: Giving Away or Donating

It was late at night, and I was looking for a movie I could watch online, right away.  I came across Riding in Cars with Boys and, as per usual, I thought I had already seen it but figured I would give myself a quick refresher since I could not remember it.  I don’t know why I always felt like I had seen the movie and read the book.  I know now that I had done neither.  

I enjoyed the movie overall.  I sympathized with Barrymore’s character and with the character of the son.  I did not think the acting was top of the line, but I am not on the Barrymore bashing bandwagon either.  I have always liked her.  I was invested.

I went to bed thinking about Bev and when I woke up I decided to track the book down.  I found it on one of my shelves and started reading.  There were so many glaring differences!  It is obvious that the people who made the movie felt that they needed to make Bev a more likeable and pitiable character.  It was annoying to realize all the changes.  In the movie Bev does not smoke marijuana, but she does get busted for it in a last ditch effort to get her family out of the rut they are stuck in.  In the book it is her saving grace and even helps her relationship temporarily. She enjoys smoking and does it often.   In the movie, she never wanted to be married and was pushed in that direction.  In the book, she does fall for it for awhile.  She loves Ray—the moron.  In the movie, she does not get into college because they are afraid she will not be focused.  In the book, the college she attends on a scholarship understands that she will not be able to handle the course load of the other students.  I knew the romantic relationship between her child and her best friend’s child was bullshit before I read the book.  That would never happen in real life.  It goes on and on and on.  

It is true that in the book she makes a lot of bad and selfish choices.  She is called a bad mother more than once and the reader can see why.  She brings strange men into the home where she lives with her son and with her best friend’s daughter on a regular basis.  She complains about her son’s existence repeatedly.  She leaves him with his junkie father to go out and have fun.  They show that she can be a little selfish in the movie but not like that.  In the end, though, I can still see that she loves her son, that she was young when she had him and ill-prepared, that they are bonded and have a good relationship.  I can see that some of her unusual parenting styles were probably beneficial for her son and some of them were not.  She was a young girl who did not have the option of abortion and it changed her whole life.  She is brutally honest about her experience and does not hide behind shame.  A lot of parents make mistakes and do illegal, risky, problematic things with their children.  They are not all so honest about it.  Many do not do it as often, but if we did not grow up poor, with a baby as a teenager, who we to say how we would have handled it.  I am not convinced I would be better than Bev.  I think when all things are said and done she is a good mother who loves her son and had a rocky road to that realization.  She is possibly also a little hard on herself and does not mention all the sweet things she did as often as all the risky things.  Movie Bev, Book Bev , you both frustrated me, broke my heart, had me fighting for you, had me dreaming with you.  

Now, that last line makes it look like I wanted to write a raving review.  I give both the movie and the book 3 stars.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Life After God

Life After God  by Douglas Coupland
Weight: 11.2 oz
Method of Disposal: Donating or give it away

Since we are already on the topic of authors that were compared to Chuck Palahniuk I have decided to release Life After God.  The Waldenbooks computer recommended Copeland to my friend Sarah and me.  It took me awhile to purchase and read any of his novels, but I started with Life After God.  Again, I was less impressed than I expected to be.  I had recently read Breakfast of Champions and was kind of excited to see the pictures in this book, but they did not serve the same purpose and were not as exciting.  The book was a rambling mess, and while I can get into a good rambling mess from time to time this was not one of those times.  It did not have the same thrill of a Palahniuk book, and it was not shocking in the least.  I had already purchased other books of his, and I will say it got better.

I am not entirely sure that at this stage in my life I am much of a Palahniuk, Copeland, or Ballard fan.  I guess that is coming across quite clear.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Concrete Island

Concrete Island  by j. g. ballard
Weight: 7.2 oz
Method of Disposal: Selling or giving away

j.g. ballard was recommended to me back when I was reading all of the Chuck Palahniuk books I could get my hands on.  I was told that if I liked him I would love Ballard.  At the time, I was not as impressed by him as I hoped.  Now that some time has passed, I am no longer a fan of Palahniuk and would consider Ballard to be a much better author.

Nonetheless, there was something lacking in Concrete Island, or I just did not care about the characters at all.  I think the premise was intriguing and that I expected so much more than what I got.  I remember feeling so let down.  Maybe without the expectations it would have read better.

Things I like about this copy:
  • There is a little blue star sticker over the barcode.  This was the symbol my dear friend Sarah and I used when working at Waldenbooks to show that we did not want the book to be returned even if the PDT (?—Barnes and Noble had a different name for it) scanner told us it was not selling and it was time to send it back.
  •  The blue blue sky over the interstate on the cover
  • The Title
  • The pages changing color with age