Monday, March 22, 2010

What Are You Reading?

Meme hosted by Sheila of One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.


Will the Boat Sink the Water: The Life of Chinese Peasants by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao

This book was eye-opening and informative. It is about the struggles of poor Chinese farmers as they confront corrupt local officials who over-tax, embezzle and even murder.

It's a banned book in China, but millions of copies have sold 'underground'.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Bartlett
This is a book for people who really like books. I learned a lot about antiquarian and rare book collecting and got to know some interesting historical figures.

It's also about a man with a serious sense of entitlement. I definitely recommend this one.

A Treasury of Great American Scandals by Michael Farquhar
This book is not really the best for someone who reads history a lot, since it covers the basic details of episodes you're bound to already know about: the Hamilton-Burr duel, Nixon tapes, Benedict Arnold. But it is good light-reading for the history buff. It gives a human face to historical figures- was James Buchanan gay? What made Ulysses S. Grant burst into tears? Who tried to steal Lincoln's body?
It's funny and it makes you want to know more.


The Panda's Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould
The going is a little slow, but this is a fascinating book. It's all sciency and stuff. And I like that.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
I am loving this book.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
Loving this one, too.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Just started.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Fetishing: Book Quotes

You ever heard somebody say something-- or read something- that fitted your feelings so perfectly you can't believe it? You nod- gasp out loud. You feel like you want to tell somebody.

The word for this feeling is a word I learned in church- my father's childhood church- an old A.M.E Zion church. This is the church where all of my ancestors, going back for 5 generations are buried. When the preacher would start rolling and the congregation would get happy, they shouted "Amen!"

Apparently, it's original meaning is something like "So be it", but it's also a term of loud, hardy agreement. It's what you say when you feel the truth of a statement down to your bones.

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy. ~Edward P. Morgan

If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them. ~Mark Twain, attributed

I know every book of mine by its smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things. ~George Robert Gissing

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. ~Chinese Proverb

A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul. ~Franz Kafka

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

To choose a good book, look in an inquisitor’s prohibited list. ~John Aikin

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it”- Attributed to Mark Twain, but actually comes from a Robert Heinlein book

"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes" - Erasmus The humanist

and finally...

I cannot live without books.
-Thomas Jefferson


A Day No Pigs Would Die

This 1972 novel by Robert Peck tells the story of a 13 year old boy learning to accept responsibility. It has been frequently challenged because of sexual explicitness (it describes a mating between a boar and a sow) and explicit language.

I found this paragraph on a page called The Censorship Connection written by Nancy McCracken that described objections to the animal scene.

The parents read this scene as a rape. It's hard not to read it that way since it is presented from an anthropomorphic point of view, as when Mr. Tanner tells Rob that Pinky's resistance is "All part of courting ... Samson just got his face slapped. That's all." Parents read about the mating through young Rob's eyes:
[Samson] was bigger and stronger and ten times meaner than Pinky. So he had his way with her. All the time he was breeding into her, she squealed like her throat had been cut. Every breath. She just squealed like crying, and wouldn't stop.

Not even after Samson had enough of her and got down off her, did she stop her whining. Not even then. Her rump was bruised and there was blood running down her hind leg. (p. 121, Dell, 1972) Mr. Tanner completes the personification when he tells Rob that Pinky "weren't nought but a maiden before this morning. Just a little girl, she was" (p. 121).

The teachers at the meeting, other parents, and one seventh grader who had come to speak for the book proclaimed that the students didn't see that scene as very important.

One teacher reported that when she had surveyed her students several months after they'd read the book, no one mentioned the mating scene.

The objecting parents then offered an argument that is hard to listen to, but important for anti-censors to hear. This was the argument: so long as the girls read the scene, even if they didn't remember it, the scene had entered their minds along with the rest of the book, and it might, like a single dose of L.S.D., come back to haunt them in future flashbacks. Two quick responses came to mind. The first was that even if alleged "L.S.D. effect" occurred, the result would be nothing so much as sympathy for creatures caged and hurt -- which would be healthy, wouldn't it? The second quick response was that literature isn't like L.S.D. -- a single dose of which can alter your brain and damage your ability to create healthy offspring; literature is mediated experience, read and discussed and put to good use by teachers and students in a classroom.

Eventually, the school adopted the policy of presenting a list of reading materials to parents at the beginning of the school year, allowing them to substitute another book, rather than restricting reading material for all students.

Any kid who grew up on a farm probably has seen scenes like this in real life - all through human history. Animals on a farm don't hold back because there is a 13 year old nearby. I did have a little cry when I read this book- it's a powerful, gritty, realistic story about growing up, based on the author's life.

I don't think he should have altered the harsh realities of life during the Depression to make it more comfortable.

March 17, 2010
This book poses a special problem though- the Shaker element. Shakers never lived in Vermont and do not have children or get married. But if something in a story is false, is it okay to say 'no kid can read this', or is it better to take the opportunity to educate?

Reading fiction is not supposed to be a passive experience & you don't just do it for entertainment. Critical reading helps develop critical thinking.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What Are You Reading?

Meme hosted by Sheila of One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.


Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
This book was delightful. It was funny, informative, moving and a dream-book for anyone who loves gardening, food, family and learning new stuff.

It's a locavore's manifesto. Some find it preachy- but it isn't a fire and brimstone sermon. It's a series of anecdotes about a family's one year experiment to eat locally grown, organic food. It made me hungry every time I picked it up (I gained some weight, I think) and I would love to have my own copy (I borrowed this one from the library).

When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball
It always sounds juvenile when you say a book is boring, but sometimes it is. The author took view of religion that annoys me, an apologetic defense of moderate religion that pretends that scriptural literalism and belief in impending Armageddon are peculiarities of small snake-handling sects somewhere in the boonies.

I live in the Great red-state of Georgia & I beg to differ. For example, his first sign of evil religion is dead on: Absolute Truth claims.

I have never known a religious person who didn't believe they knew the absolute truth...or that the end time is near.
*Not saying that none exist.

Just saying that Kimball's reasonable religion is outnumbered, probably because most people can find little solace in something if they don't believe it's entirely true.

It was fascinating to read the different cases of religious extremism - Jim Jones, Shoko Ahasara and David Koresh all merit a section.

I was annoyed, however, by some ditz who left their notes in the margin. Normally, I love marginalia (word stolen from poet Billy Collins), but this was the worst kind of obnoxious know-it-allism. "Typical Academic Dodge!" they scrawled in one paragraph. I read it eight times and still don't know what they were talking about, the passage seemed perfectly benign.

Maybe I'm just ignorant, I thought, maybe Kimball's dodging something I don't know about.

But the rest of the book was peppered with obscene, indignant little question marks in the margins. It was like a defiant kid continually say "Huh?" when his mother tells him to take out the garbage.

Was the reader confused or just trying to piss me off?
Maybe I'm just grouchy.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett. The letters "OMG" come to mind. I love Terry Pratchett. I love Neil Gaiman. Reading a book written by both nearly gave me seizures- it was as funny, clever and surprising as you'd expect it to be. It is about the ultimate battle between Heaven and Hell, a serious subject rendered absurd by unexpected characterizations. My favorite characters were the Four Horsemen, modernized and mounted on motorcycles ("Hell's Angels") and then there was Crowley and Aziraphale- a demon & an angel who've kept a friendship going for thousands of years and are a little too comfortable with life on Earth.

This week:

Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of Chinese Peasants by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao
How the poor of China are struggling, hidden from foreign eyes (banned in China)

The Panda's Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould
Evolutionary science by the Late Mr. Gould

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Alison Bartlett
A detective story about an evil, evil, horrible man who...dare I say it...stole people's books!
(I know, I didn't know it was "rampant". I'm getting ADT...and a rifle...)

Monday, March 8, 2010

What Are You Reading?

Meme hosted by Sheila of One Person's Journey Through a World of Books

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

Theodore Roosevelt by Louis Auchincloss

Nietzsche for Beginners by Marc Sautet

and I also re-read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I am still working on:

Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball

and The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

I have added to this:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell


Sartre for Beginners by Donald Palmer

My trouble is, I set out to read something, put it on my list and then get sidetracked at the library when I see another book. Planning my reading list is like trying to predict next Thursday's weather- you can make an educated guess but it's understood that anything can happen.

Is it like this for everyone else or can I get tips from a more organized reader?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mein Kampf

When reading about the Holocaust, I tend to wonder less about the experiences of the Jews & the many other victims of the racial "purge". (The Romani people, homosexuals, the mentally & physically handicapped) and more about the German citizens.

How could ordinary people have participated in this?

If any book is going to give us an answer, it's this one.
Historians study it in the ongoing debates about how the Holocaust played out.

Mein Kampf
("My Struggle"), being the memoirs/political ideology of a megalomaniac, it embellishes, misrepresents and omits whatever might belie the desired impression.

It is important not for what is says about Adolf Hitler, but for what he wanted the world to believe about him- and what people wanted to believe about him. In this book, we see that Hitler presents himself as a patriotic, heroic, god-fearing defender of German values.

This book epitomizes evil for many people (see list of restrictions and bans here). But books in themselves are never evil- it's the ideas people have a problem with--in some cases, this is understandable. But how do you fight an evil you don't understand? How do we unravel the dark knot that is human evil if we can't even stop and examine our opponent?

Monday, March 1, 2010

What Are You Reading?

This past week, I finished:

Sayonara by James Michener- a quick, heart-racing story about an interracial romance and the great lengths that small minds go to to tear it apart.

Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen- Hilarious, of course. Carl Hiaasen creates the most interesting women- they are always, strong,smart and a little quirky. In this story, the protagonist is JoLayne Lucks who has her winning lottery ticket stolen by two white supremacists (they need the money to form a militia). With the help of an investigative news reporter, she tracks the thieves down to get it back.


The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L Holmes- okay, this was kind of boring. Certainly not the best history book I've read. The information, though was fascinating- it spends a lot of time explaining deism & how you can tell the difference between a deist & a christian (pedantic &, it seemed to me, unnecessary). It did have something I look for in history books of this nature- lots & lots of direct quotes.
I don't like hearsay history.

I also finished Heidegger for Beginners by Eric Lemay and Jennifer A. Pitts
and Kierkegaard for Beginners by Donald C. Palmer

I didn't finish Don't Know Much About the Civil War by Kenneth C. Davis. His books are really more like reference books- the ones I have completed have all been copies that I own. This one I borrowed from the library and it was taking too long to get into.

I am currently reading:

The Age of Reason
by Thomas Paine

When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

The Partly-Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

and still reading Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold by Marq de Villiers and Sheila Hirtle