29 June 2012

Not every one is a winner....

Last weekend I asked DS to pick out my next book from my Assignment Shelf.  Any book should be a winner, right?  These have already been hand-selected by me!

Well, I guess there's always going to be a dud.  I read the first 125 pages of Kim Edwards' The Memory Keeper's Daughter, and I did what I NEVER do.... I stopped reading it.

Not like, "Hmm, I'm not in the mood right now, I'll pick it up again later."  No, I quit the book.  I didn't like any of the characters, I couldn't bear hearing her describe baby hands as "stars" or "starfish" one more stinkin' time, and I couldn't get past the fact that there was a church memorial service for the "dead" baby, and supposedly a grave, but no death certificate?  No one inquired after the baby's body

And this is a BIG DEAL because I consider a novel to be all-of-a-piece, like a painting.  Remember Cameron staring at A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande JatteHe gets so close that all he can see is dots.  A novel, to me, is like those thousands and thousands of dots in a Pointilist painting.  You have to stand back and consider the whole thing.

So I did it, I broke my own rule.

My husband laughs that I will be reading a book, grumble that I hate it, but continue to read it.  It  takes more willpower - a conscious choice on my part - to PUT IT DOWN.  I slogged through Middlemarch in the '90s, not for a class, but "for fun."  I started it because a respected friend told me it is one of her favorite books of all time; I finished it because I felt that I owed it to George Eliot (and to my friend) to do so.  I didn't like Love in the Time of Cholera, but I kept reading, thinking, "It'll get better." And as with George Eliot, I felt like it would be disingenuous for me to dismiss Gabriel García Márquez unless I'd read the WHOLE thing (who the hell am I to judge them?). I'm dead honest here: the last two pages of Cholera were my favorite, and not just because it meant I was finished (thank god!) but because I actually enjoyed them in a way I did NOT enjoy the other 250 or so.  But was it worth keeping on?  No, I don't think so.

I know Memory Keeper's Daughter was a bestseller, but I don't follow the crowd on reading all that much anyway (yes, I read Twilight Book 1, and no, I didn't like it).  I know from my GoodReads friend list that more than a couple of people who read this blog really loved this book.  Bring on the say-it-ain't-so....

Sigh.  I'm just not a "chick lit" kind of girl. A while back I read Sue Monk Kidd's second novel, The Mermaid Chair, and LOATHED it (I kept reading that one because I was on a trip and it was the only book I had brought with me). The Secret Life of Bees is also on The Shelf. Wonder how I'll do.  More to come.

25 June 2012

Books that Engender (Misplaced) Fear?

Back in May I stumbled across Precious Knowledge, part of the PBS Independent Lens series of documentaries, chronicling the experience of the Ethnic Studies Department of Tucson High School, a public magnet school. Ethnic Studies at THS focus on Mexican-American history, culture, arts, literature, and traditional and contemporary belief. They are open to Latino and non-Latino students (although at this high school, many students are Latino, and so by extension, the majority of students taking Ethnic Studies are Latino). And they have had significant, proven success: of their students, 93% graduate and 85% go on to college, compared to a 48% graduation rate among students who don’t take their class. So, what’s going on in Ethnic Studies?

Whatever it is, the White Arizonans are scared, to the point that they’ve outlawed the class (via AZ HB 2281) and banned a long list of books. Yes, Jan Brewer et al see it as seditious and anti-American, and that their least-favorite, Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, causes racial hate. John Huppenthal, AZ State Superintendent of Public Instruction, visits, and despite everything he hears & learns in the classroom, he questions why there’s a photo of Che Guevera in the classroom, but no poster of Benjamin Franklin. (Wha??) Conservatives say that the curriculum flies in the face of wholesome, traditional American values. (Note: the AZ State Superintendent of Public Instruction is an elected position.  In theory, the person who gets elected to this position needn't have a lick of educational expertise.)

Which values? The ones that say we are free to read and write what we want? The ones that say it’s our right to fight against oppression, and to stand up against those who would keep us back, to protest against wrongs? How can these Arizona lawmakers stand there and say that limiting Mexican-American Ethnic Studies is wrong, but Asian-American studies or African-American studies are not divisive? Schools teach about parts of our past, AND our present, much of which may make us uncomfortable. Typically, I think that’s when they’re doing their best.

Precious Knowledge showed video of students and teachers both in and out of the classroom. In spite of the disrespect and distain, even threats of violence toward them, I saw no hatred against America, or against anyone. At the start of each class session, they recite a Mayan-inspired Luis Valdez poem:

In Lak’ech
Tú eres mi otro yo—you are my other me
Si te hago daño a ti,me hago daño a mí mismo.
If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself.
Sí te amo y respeto,me amo y me respeto yo.
If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.

According to Xulio Soriano, a Chicano blogger who took Ethnic Studies in high school: "Never did I learn to hate white Christian males. Never was I recruited to join a subversive group in order to overthrow the US Government. Instead, my humanity was acknowledged. What I did learn, alongside Asian, Black, and White students, was a more accurate cultural, artistic, literary and political history of the different contributions that Latin-American immigrants and non-immigrants have given to the fabric of the U.S. identity."

The Society of U.S. Intellectual History wrote this: "when [John Huppenthal] sat in on the classes, he commented that the teacher wore a collared [long-sleeved] shirt and tie, and so therefore must be sort of pro-American. When the Brown Berets supported the students at a protest, Tom Horne remarks that their brown shirts, berets, and sunglasses represent anti-American revolutionaries."

Brown shirts are what we should fear?  Really?
Navy "service uniform."
Sharp, yes.  Fearful, hmmm...
Fear the shirt!  Oh, the brown shirt!
Brown Berets.  Be afraid.
Is brown the new black?
Now that it’s been established that the birth of non-white babies in the United States outnumbers the birth of "white" babies, perhaps the tide will turn. I may have white skin, but I abhor the hatred inherent in Jan Brewer, Tom Horne, and the rest of those who cry "Racism!" at an Ethnic Studies class because it celebrates a non-white ethnicity.


NOTE: Today the Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona's controversial immigration law.  According to USA Today, "Opponents said it unfairly criminalizes otherwise law-abiding people, opens the door for racial profiling of Hispanics legally in the country and forces state law enforcement to interfere with the intricacies of federal immigration policy."

22 June 2012

Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

It was the title that tempted me first: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.  Who doesn't want to read amazing adventures?  Some of their adventures ARE pretty amazing.  (Slight spoiler: I've never read a more vivid description of survival in Antarctica.)

I read Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union a couple of years ago.  I like me a "hard-boiled" story (remember my Kenzie frenzy?) and I love "alternative history" fiction, so that was a real winner for me.  I would call K&C historical fiction. 

Here's the ridiculously short summary: a young man (Joe Kavalier) escapes Nazi Prague (the only member of his family to do so) through his bravery, a masterful plan (hidden in a packing crate with the Golem of Prague disguised as a corpse) and a mastery of magic & escapism (a la Houdini).  He arrives in New York and settles in with his aunt and his cousin (Sammy Clay).  Kavalier & Clay become a successful comic book writer & artist team.  Both Kavalier and Clay fall in love with significant others; WWII breaks out, Kavalier & Clay are separated by distance, time, and life experience, until circumstances reunite them and they can each regain their authentic selves.

Seriously, that really doesn't do the book justice. 

15 June 2012

Book People Unite!

I stumbled across this WONDERFUL music video.  Recognize any of your favorite characters?

Brought to you by the good people at Reading is Fundamental and BookPeopleUnite.org

NOT TO BE MISSED: The Behind the Scenes making of Book People Unite.  OMG, I don't know what's funnier, Raggedy Andy talking about Raggedy Ann, or LeVar Burton discussing the tension on set between the Three Little Pigs and the Three Blind Mice.

Visit your local library!  Here's a link to information about public libraries in every corner of Maine.  (Don't forget to check out their summer reading programs - many libraries have programs for kids AND adults.  You win twice - read awesome books, and get cool swag!)  Best of all, if your local library doesn't have the book you want in their collection, you can access MINERVA and get the book via Interlibrary Loan - also FREE.

12 June 2012

Spelling rant #1

We're getting to know each other better, so true confessions: I loathe bad spelling and grammar.

One of my husband's colleagues happened to read some of my writing recently, and remarked that even in casual correspondence (an email note to DH), I'm "formal."  If by that he means that I use proper capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and syntax, well, so be it.  I'll be the Grammar Queen of England.

Here's today's doozy:

I don't know who MK is, but if this purveyor of supposedly-awesome outdoor clothing can't copy-edit their advertising, I'm not even going to extend them the courtesy of clicking on their link to find out (not even to write them a nasty-gram).  Even if my husband were Grizzly Adams, Bear Grylls, or The Crocodile Hunter, he couldn't love the outdoors enough for me to buy clothes from MK.   "Dad's" is singular possessive... as in "Dad's piece of rope, Dad's blue shirt, Dad's overgrown lawn, or Dad's Irish setter".  Conversely, "Dads" is plural.  And as you might be banking on, MK, there are multiple Dads being feted (fêted?) on Father's Day.  Or is that Fathers' Day?  Or just plain Fathers Day? 

BTW, I might love proper spelling and grammar, but I'm not immune from making my own mistakes.  Feel free to point them out, if you see them, and put me in my place!

07 June 2012

Bookish people have BETTER social skills?!

I haven't finished any books this week (I helped my son finish his sizeable end-of-the-year school project... we're all wiped out ;-)

But I enjoyed reading this post on a blog I follow, MWF Seeking BFF.

The Hard Facts: Fiction Readers Have More Social Skills

WHO KNEW?  I mean, when I'm holed up with a book, would anyone have believed I'm gaining social skills?

Apparently reading about the lives (and suffering) of fictional characters strengthens '"theory of mind,' is the ability to interpret and respond to those different from us, a pretty vital skill for anyone looking to make new friends or, I don’t know, exist in the world."