Saturday, October 31, 2009

Scary Reading

Looking for something scary to read for Halloween? Here's the Horror Writers Association's Reading List.

Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (read this one when I was a teenager; hid it from the parents)
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite
The Hungry Moon by Ramsey Campbell
The Between by Tananarive Due
Darklands by Dennis Etchison
Raven by Charles L Grant
Dead in the Water by Nancy Holder
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (read this in grad school; loved it; wrote a paper on it)
The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
Turn of the Screw by Henry James (one of my favorite ghost stories, much better than Portrait of a Lady. Sorry Portrait fans)
The Ghost Stories of M.R. James
Dr. Adder by K.W. Jeter
The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka (weird but not scary)
Pet Semetary by Stephen King
The Shining by Stephen King
The Stand by Stephen King
Skin by Kathe Koja
Dark Dance by Tanith Lee
Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber
Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti
Lovers Living, Lovers Dead by Richard Lortz
The Dunwich Horror and Others by H.P. Lovecraft
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
The Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen
Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen
Sineater by Elizabeth Massie
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (saw the movie; does that count?--Have read Mary Shelley's The Last Man; same premise but no vampirey beings)
Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (I teach this novel in Honors Symposium)
Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector
Ghoul by Michael Slade
Vampire Junction by S.P. Somtow
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (who hasn't read it?)
Dracula by Bram Stoker (a book I need to re-read)
Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon
Phantom by Thomas Tessier
Sacrifice by Andrew Vachss

Grab one from the list and go scare yourself! (That sounded kind of rude, didn't it?)

Friday, October 30, 2009

What I'm Reading Now


From Publishers Weekly:

Until a few years ago, many faithful Christians saw popular culture the way the Dutch presumably see the ocean--as a vast force to be kept at bay by any means necessary. That began to change with Tom Beaudoin's Virtual Faith, a heady mix of cultural analysis and theology. Fuller Theological Seminary alumni Detweiler and Taylor are the latest authors to call fellow Christians to take their thumbs out of the dike. Detweiler, producer of the City of the Angels Film Festival, and Taylor, a sound engineer with a roster of top clients, follow (ir)reverently in Beaudoin's wake, exploring the signs of a God-haunted generation in everything from Chris Ofili's dung-smattered Madonna to Jesus' appearance in South Park. Their book is ambitious in scope and smartly structured. Detweiler and Taylor begin with chapters on advertising and the role of celebrities, topics that other Christian commentators have generally ignored, and they are consistently alert to the commercial forces that drive pop culture's production and consumption. They are also witty, readable and passionate about both pop culture and their evangelical faith. But their cultural analysis borrows heavily from previous writers, and their claim to be discovering a "theology" of pop culture may surprise readers who expect a book from the Baker Academic imprint to engage its sources, whether Tom Beaudoin or Ned Flanders, with more critical rigor.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cell Phones and Silence



Continuing the cell phone theme . . .


In the 11/2/09 edition of Newsweek, columnist Julia Baird reminds us that, in C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, the devil brags that "We will make the whole universe a noise . . . We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end." She explains that Christian scholars in medieval times believed that Satan did not want people to have time alone with God or their fellowman in which they could be "fully alert and listening."

Baird mentions a book by Sara Maitland, a British author who traveled through deserts and hills and spent 40 days in an isolated house in the remote Scottish Highlands in an attempt to discover what silence truly is. Maitland "believes the mobile phone is a 'major breakthrough for the powers of hell.'" In her work, A Book of Silence, Maitland says, "I am convinced that as a whole society we are losing something precious in our increasingly silence-avoiding culture, and that somehow, whatever this silence might be, it needs holding, nourishing, and unpacking."

Baird reveals that Maitland's book made her "realize what a profound longing many of us have for silence, how hard it is to find, and how easily we forget how much we need it." Baird concludes, "I know, [this article] sounds like the lament of the Luddite. But if generations of mystics and seekers have insisted that there's something that connects silence with the sublime, you have to wonder what we are distracting ourselves from--and who we could be if, every now and then, we paused."

I do believe humans have a longing for silence. I know I do. I love to be in a silent house. I can stay home all day, doing chores, reading, whatever, without ever turning on the TV or the radio, but I rarely get to spend a day like this. Many people turn on the TV as soon as they get up, but continuous electronic background chatter shreds my nerves. It's been a long time ago now, but I remember one of the most moving HU chapels I've ever experienced was devoted to silence. No one said a word while messages on the screen in front of us challenged our dependence on electronic noise and busyness and encouraged us to spend more time "being still and knowing."

I'm not against electronic gadgets. I've got a lot of them--laptop, BlackBerry, ipod, etc. I use them and I like having them. At the same time, I often feel as if they are more in charge of my time than I am. I read the other day of a communications professor who challenged her students to go on a technology fast for one weekend--from Friday at the end of class until classes resumed Monday morning. Her students were aghast. They really didn't think it was possible.

I think Maitland's book may have to be added to my must-read list.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Off My Chest


I read in the paper the other day that Cheyenne, Wyoming, has outlawed the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Of course, there's an uproar. "We have the right to bear a cell phone," one angry citizen protested. "If I'm driving down the road, minding my own business and talking on my cell phone, leave me alone," said another. There were lots of versions of "Nobody has the right to tell me what to do." One man claimed he needed to use his cell phone to keep track of his five children. Maybe he should have thought of that before . . . Never mind.


I'm not against cell phone use. I've got one myself, and I use it regularly. But I can totally understand why the idea of passing a law like this might be attractive to some people. I don't know how many times I've sat behind a vehicle at an intersection waiting, waiting, waiting for the driver to notice that the light's turned green while he or she has been talking away on a cell phone. The other day, my husband was driving down Beebe-Capps when a woman in a big SUV in the lane next to him (going the same direction) came half-way over into his lane, forcing him onto the shoulder. She was talking on her cell phone and never even noticed. Several years ago, my daughter was rear-ended while stopped at a red light by a girl who was speeding and, you guessed it, also talking on her cell phone.


Now I'm on a roll. I also get tired of overhearing personal conversations in public places--especially in restrooms where the conversation echoes . . . echoes . . . echoes . . . I really don't want to hear about how you can't decide if you should get your tubes tied or not. Or how drunk you got last weekend. Or what a bum your ex is. I don't want to stand behind you in the checkout line when you can't even place your items onto the conveyor belt because your phone conversation is taking all your attention. I find it extremely frustrating to wait behind you at the counter when you don't even realize it's your turn to place your lunch order because you can't hang up your phone for five minutes. One restaurant in Oxford had a sign at the counter: "If you're on your phone, you're not in line." Thank you, management. We've even gone out to dinner at nice restaurants and been unable to carry on a conversation because we couldn't hear over the guy yelling into his phone at the next table. Please, people, pay attention! And show some courtesy!


Whew. I feel better now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The High Road


I don't usually post about politics. Not that I don't care, and not that I don't have opinions. I'm an English professor, not a political scientist, and to be honest, sometimes I just don't feel qualified to add my voice to the (sometimes confusing and often overwhelming, at least to me) debate.

However, in the October 2009 issue of The Atlantic (which I read mostly for the poetry and book reviews), Andrew Sullivan has written an article on torture that I think is a must-read, whatever your political leanings. One reason that this open letter to President Bush is so effective is that Sullivan is a self-professed conservative, an early supporter of the president. Furthermore, he bases his argument on ethical and moral principles, not political ones. Because he has no political ax to grind, his petition to the former president is especially hard to dismiss or ignore.

Here's an excerpt:
"But torture has no defense whatsoever in Christian morality. There are no circumstances in which it can be justified, let alone integrated as a formal program within a democratic government. The Catholic catechism states, 'Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions . . . is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.' Dignity is the critical word here. Even evil men are human and redeemable. Our faith demands that, even in legitimate punishment or interrogation, the dignity of prisoners must be respected. Our faith teaches that each of us--even Khalis Sheikh Mohammed--is made in the image of God. To violate that imago Dei by stripping and freezing him, by slamming him against a wall, or strapping him to a board to nearly drown him again and again and again, to bombard him with noise and light until he loses his mind, to reduce a human being to a mental and spiritual shell--nothing can justify this for a Christian. Nothing. To wield that power is to wield evil. And such evil is almost always committed by those who believe they are pursuing good.

[ . . . ] Because torture can coerce truth, break a human being's dignity, treat him as an expendable means rather than as a fragile end, it has a terrible power to corrupt. Torture is the ultimate expression of the absolute power of one individual over another; it destroys the souls of those who torture just as surely as it eviscerates the dignity of those who are its victims."

Amen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Booking It--The Whole Shabang


Which author(s) do you like enough to have read all his or her works? Are there any authors that you've enjoyed one or two of their books so much that you plan to read their whole body of work?

I'll probably leave somebody out, but here goes. As a kid, I loved Beverly Cleary and Laura Ingalls Wilder so much that I read all their books. This one may not quite fit because it had multiple authors, but I also read the whole Trixie Belden series--at least all that had been printed at the time.

As an adult, I've read all of Jane Austen's (big surprise there!), Eudora Welty's, Patricia Cornwell's, and Daniel Silva's (well, just bought his latest, but you get the idea). I've read all C. S. Lewis's novels and quite a bit of his nonfiction, but not all his works.

Oh, I've read all Harper Lee's novels. (Wink, wink.)

Some authors that I've encountered and intend to read more of are Barbara Pym, Marilynne Robinson, Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve, Sarah Waters, and Barbara Kingsolver. I've only read one book by some of these authors--like Pym and Robinson. With others, like Picoult, Shreve, and Kingsolver, I've read quite a few of their novels, but there are still a good number yet to read.

As they say, so many books, so little time. This is a hard question. I just know I'm forgetting some great authors.

And you?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Investigation, Please


Take that, Wal-Mart, et al!

The American Booksellers Association has requested the Department of Justice to Investigate the Bestseller Price Wars. Here's a copy of their letter:

VIA OVERNIGHT MAIL AND E-MAIL

October 22, 2009

The Honorable Christine Varney
Assistant Attorney General
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 3109
Washington, DC 20530

Molly Boast, Esquire
Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Matters
Antitrust Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3210
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Ms. Varney and Ms. Boast,

We are writing on behalf of the American Booksellers Association, a 109-year-old trade organization representing the nation's locally owned, independent booksellers. A core part of our mission is devoted to making books as widely available to American consumers as possible. We ask that the Department of Justice investigate practices by Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target that we believe constitute illegal predatory pricing that is damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers. We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss this urgent issue at your earliest possible opportunity.

As reported in the consumer and trade press this past week, Amazon.com, WalMart.com, and Target.com have engaged in a price war in the pre-sale of new hardcover bestsellers, including books from John Grisham, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Sarah Palin, and James Patterson. These books typically retail for between $25 and $35. As of writing of this letter, all three competitors are selling these and other titles for between $8.98 and $9.00.

Publishers sell these books to retailers at 45% - 50% off the suggested list price. For example, a $35 book, such as Mr. King's Under the Dome, costs a retailer $17.50 or more. News reports suggest that publishers are not offering special terms to these big box retailers, and that the retailers are, in fact, taking orders for these books at prices far below cost. (In the case of Mr. King's book, these retailers are losing as much as $8.50 on each unit sold.) We believe that Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.

It's important to note that the book industry is unlike other retail sectors. Clothing, jewelry, appliances, and other commercial goods are typically sold at a net price, leaving the seller free to determine the retail price and the margin these products will earn. Because publishers print list prices indelibly on jacket covers, and because books are sold at a discount off that retail price, there is a ceiling on the amount of margin a book retailer can earn.

The suggested list price set by the publisher reflects manufacturing costs -- acquisition, editing, marketing, printing, binding, shipping, etc. -- which vary significantly from book to book. By selling each of these titles below the cost these retailers pay to the publishers, and at the same price as each other, and at the same price as all other titles in these pricing schemes, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target are devaluing the very concept of the book. Authors and publishers, and ultimately consumers, stand to lose a great deal if this practice continues and/or grows.

What's so troubling in the current situation is that none of the companies involved are engaged primarily in the sale of books. They're using our most important products -- mega bestsellers, which, ironically, are the most expensive books for publishers to bring to market -- as a loss leader to attract customers to buy other, more profitable merchandise. The entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war.

It's also important to note that this episode was precipitated by below-cost pricing of digital editions of new hardcover books by Amazon.com, many of those titles retailing for $9.99, and released simultaneously with the much higher-priced print editions. We believe the loss-leader pricing of digital content also bears scrutiny.

While on the surface it may seem that these lower prices will encourage more reading and a greater sharing of ideas in the culture, the reality is quite the opposite. Consider this quote from Mr. Grisham's agent, David Gernert, that appeared in the New York Times:

"If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King's new novel or John Grisham's 'Ford County' for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer's attention away from emerging writers."

For our members -- locally owned, independent bookstores -- the effect will be devastating. There is simply no way for ABA members to compete. The net result will be the closing of many independent bookstores, and a concentration of power in the book industry in very few hands. Bill Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, an ABA member, was also quoted in the New York Times:

"You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers. But if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what's going to get published, the business is in trouble."

We would find these practices questionable were they taking place in the market for widgets. That they are taking place in the market for books is catastrophic. If left unchecked, these predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public, and will allow the few remaining mega booksellers to raise prices to consumers unchecked.

We urge that the DOJ investigate and request an opportunity to come to Washington to discuss this at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

ABA Board of Directors:

Michael Tucker, President (Books Inc.--San Francisco, CA)
Becky Anderson, Vice President (Anderson's Bookshops--Naperville, IL)
Steve Bercu (BookPeople--Austin, TX)
Betsy Burton (The King's English Bookshop--Salt Lake City, UT)
Tom Campbell (The Regulator Bookshop--Durham, NC)
Dan Chartrand (Water Street Bookstore--Exeter, NH)
Cathy Langer (Tattered Cover Book Store--Denver, CO)
Beth Puffer (Bank Street Bookstore--New York, NY)
Ken White (SFSU Bookstore--San Francisco, CA)

CC:Oren Teicher, CEO, American Booksellers Association
Len Vlahos, COO, American Booksellers Association
Owen M. Kendler, Esquire, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice



Friday, October 23, 2009

Holy Violence


This week, in our Brit Lit I class, we studied the works of John Donne. I've loved his poetry ever since I first read it for my own undergraduate British Literature class--it's so shocking, so beautiful, so different from the poetry that comes before it, especially the religious poetry.


We laughed over his carpe diem poem "The Flea," and we all appreciated the conceits in his "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," but the poem that engendered the most discussion was this one:


HOLY SONNETS. XIV.

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you

As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend

Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,

Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betroth'd unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


Not every student liked it, of course. But most did. And not just in a "That's an okay poem" kind of way. The fervor of the poem was mirrored in their responses to it. In a world full of bland clich├ęs about God, the idea of someone longing for Him enough to beg for his violent posession holds a strange attraction.

I love classes like that.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wal-Mart's At It Again


From the Associated Press:

"NEW YORK — A price war has broken out in the book world.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced Thursday that its online site, walmart.com, would charge just $10, with free shipping, for such upcoming hardcover releases as Sarah Palin's Going Rogue and John Grisham's Ford County, a cut of 60 percent or more from the regular cost.

Amazon.com, the leading online book seller, has responded, also slashing its price to $10 for Going Rogue, Ford County, Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes and other leading pre-orders."

[ . . . ]

"In a new program called 'America's Reading List,' Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart also will offer 50 percent off or more on 200 current best-sellers, including Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol and Kathryn Stockett's The Help.

Thursday's price cuts come at a time when Seattle-based Amazon and other sellers have been charging just $9.99 for ebooks, a price that publishers worry is unrealistically low. The reductions also make it increasingly hard for independent sellers, who can't afford such large discounts, to compete for the most popular books."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What I'm Reading Now

I've only just begun this book, but I'm already hooked. Strong voice, beautiful foreshadowing.


From Publishers Weekly:

"During the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, three young women, members of a conservative, pious Catholic family, who had become committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the regime, were ambushed and assassinated as they drove back from visiting their jailed husbands. Thus martyred, the Mirabal sisters have become mythical figures in their country, where they are known as las mariposas (the butterflies), from their underground code names.


Herself a native of the Dominican Republic, Alvarez ( How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents ) has fictionalized their story in a narrative that starts slowly but builds to a gripping intensity. Each of the girls--Patria, Minerva and Maria Terese (Mate) Mirabal--speaks in her own voice, beginning in their girlhood in the 1940s; their surviving sister, Dede, frames the narrative with her own tale of suffering and dedication to their memory. To differentiate their personalities and the ways they came to acquire revolutionary fervor, Alvarez takes the risk of describing their early lives in leisurely detail, somewhat slowing the narrative momentum. In particular, the giddy, childish diary entries of Mate, the youngest, may seem irritatingly mundane at first, but in time Mate's heroism becomes the most moving of all, as the sisters endure the arrests of their husbands, their own imprisonment and the inexorable progress of Trujillo's revenge. Alvarez captures the terrorized atmosphere of a police state, in which people live under the sword of terrible fear and atrocities cannot be acknowledged. As the sisters' energetic fervor turns to anguish, Alvarez conveys their courage and their desperation, and the full import of their tragedy."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"No loo, no I do"


I find this fascinating. This is from The Washington Post's Emily Wax's column, "India brides telling grooms, 'No loo, no I do,'" reprinted in Sunday's Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

"In rural India, many young women are refusing to marry unless the suitor furnishes their future home with a bathroom, freeing them from the inconvenience and embarassment of using community toilets or squatting in fields.

About 665 million people in India--about half the population--lack access to latrines. But since a 'No Toilet, No Bride' campaign started about two years ago, 1.4 million toilets have been built in the northern state of Haryana, some with government funds, according to the state's health department.

Women's rights activists call the program a revolution as it spreads across India's vast and largely impoverished rural areas.

'I won't let my daughter near a boy who doesn't have a latrine,' said Usha Pagdi, who made sure that her daughter Vimlas Sasva, 18, finished high school and took courses in electronics at a technical school. [. . .]

'My father never even allowed me an education,' Pagdi said, stroking her daughter's hair in the half-built shelter near a lagoon strewn with trash. 'Every time I washed the floors, I thought about how I knew nothing. Now, young women have power. The men can't refuse us.'

Indian girls are traditionally seen as a financial liability because of the wedding dowries--often a life's savings--their fathers often shell out to the groom's family. But that is slowly changing as women marry later and grow more financially self-reliant. More rural girls are enrolled in school than ever before.

A societal preference for boys has become an unlikely source of power for Indian women. The abortion of female fetuses in favor of sons--an illegal but widespread practice--means there are more eligible bachelors than potential brides, allowing women and their parents to be more selective when arranging a match.

'I will have to work hard to afford a toilet. We won't get any bride if we don't have one now,' said Harpal Sirshwa, 22, who is hoping to marry soon. . . . 'I won't be offended when the woman I like asks for a toilet.'

Satellite television and the Internet are spreading images of rising prosperity and urban middle-class accoutrements to rural areas, such as spacious apartments--with bathrooms--and women in silk saris rushing off to the office. [ . . . ]

With economic freedom, women are increasing expecting more, and toilets are at the top of their list, they say. [Not having one] is 'humiliating, harrowing, and extrememly unhealthy.'

'The "No Toilet, No Bride" program is a bloodless coup,' said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, a social organization and winner of this year's Stockholm Water Prize for developing inexpensive, eco-friendly toilets. 'When I started, it was a cultural taboo to even talk about toilets. Now it's changing.'"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Booking It--Weeding


When’s the last time you weeded out your library? Do you regularly keep it pared down to your reading essentials? Or does it blossom into something out of control the minute you turn your back, like a garden after a Spring rain?

Or do you simply not get rid of books? At all?

And–when you DO weed out books from your collection (assuming that you do) …what do you do with them? Throw them away (gasp)? Donate them to a charity or used bookstore? SELL them to a used bookstore? Trade them on Paperback Book Swap or some other exchange program?


My book collection definitely blossoms out of control. I become inordinately attached to books, and I rarely "weed." Sometimes, it's even hard for me to get rid of textbooks that companies send me to preview that I know I'm never going to use. I got rid of some books when we moved to Searcy over seven years ago, and I still miss some of those books.

It's weird. The books I got rid of were not favorites--never novels. In fact, they were books bought for a specific purpose--like when I homeschooled the kids for two years, or for a hobby I'm no longer interested in--but part of me wishes I still had them, almost like a record of who I was at specific times in my life. I do weed when I end up with two copies of a book (unless each copy has a different introduction or appendices, or both were gifts that are inscribed by the giver). But even then, I don't just "get rid" of the book. I choose a person to give it to whom I think needs or will enjoy the book.

I'm so bad, I even wish I still had all my Little Golden Books. That's pitiful, isn't it?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2009 National Book Award Finalists

The finalists have been revealed. The winners will be announced November 18 at the National Book Foundation's 60th anniversary celebration. Additionally, Gore Vidal and Dave Eggers will be honored with lifetime achievement awards.

Fiction
Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage (Wayne State University Press)
Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin (Random House)
Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Jayne Anne Phillips, Lark and Termite (Alfred A. Knopf)
Marcel Theroux, Far North (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Nonfiction
David M. Carroll, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Sean B. Carroll, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt)
Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press)
T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Alfred A. Knopf)

Poetry
Rae Armantrout, Versed (Wesleyan University Press)
Ann Lauterbach, Or to Begin Again (Viking Penguin)
Carl Phillips, Speak Low (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press)

Young People’s Literature
Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

Friday, October 16, 2009

What I'm Reading Now


(Thanks to JGR for the reccomendation.)

"An astonishing find - the landmark journal of a woman living though the Russian occupation of Berlin - which has already earned comparisons to diaries by Etty Hillesum and Victor KlempererFor six weeks in 1945, as Berlin fell to the Russian army, a young woman, alone in the city, kept a daily record of her and her neighbors' experiences, determined to describe the common lot of millions.Purged of all self-pity but with laser-sharp observation and bracing humor, the anonymous author conjures up a ravaged apartment building and its little group of residents struggling to get by in the rubble without food, heat, or water. Clear-eyed and unsentimental, she depicts her fellow Berliners in all their humanity as well as their cravenness, corrupted first by hunger and then by the Russians. And with shocking and vivid detail, she tells of the shameful indignities to which women in a conquered city are always subject: the mass rape suffered by all, regardless of age or infirmity. Through this ordeal, she maintains her resilience, decency, and fierce will to come through her city's trial, until normalcy and safety return.At once an essential record and a work of great literature, A Woman in Berlin not only reveals a true heroine, sure to join other enduring figures of the twentieth century, but also gives voice to the rarely heard victims of war: the women."


"When A Woman in Berlin was first published anonymously in German (five years after an English language version was published in 1954) it was greeted with disgust by German audiences and quickly went out of print. The author was so shaken by the response that she would not allow her diary to be republished again until after her death. In 2003 it was republished in Germany to critical acclaim and more controversy, but also to a great deal more recognition, empathy and understanding."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reunited


Monday evening, about 8:30 or so, I was sitting at home, talking to my daughter, when I happenned to notice that one of my rings was missing. And not just any ring--my paternal grandmother's wedding ring. It's a tiny thing, white gold with a chip of a diamond, not worth a lot in dollars but high in sentimental value. I'd had it sized down to a pinky ring and have worn it daily for years, and I'd planned on giving it to my daughter one day.

I jumped up and started looking around the house--my bedroom, the bathroom, the closet, even in the laundry hamper, anywhere it might be. I looked in my car, in my husband's truck. No luck. I felt a little sick to my stomach.

As soon as I got to work Tuesday morning, I began going to all the offices to see if it had been turned in. Nope. I asked one of the cleaning ladies. No. I looked in all the rooms I'd taught in the day before, searched my office and the breakroom. No luck.

On my way back in from lunch, I saw the other cleaning lady and asked her. Before I could even describe it, she smiled and said, "A little silver ring with a tiny diamond? It's in the small second floor Ladies Room on the vanity."

I ran down the hall and up the stairs, thinking "What are the chances that it's still there?" Down another hall, through the door, and yes, right there on the vanity, 24 hours or so after losing it, was my ring.

As I later found out, a friend in the office next to mine, LQN, had found it on the floor and debated about whether to take it to her office or leave it, finally decided to leave it, and placed it on the vanity so whoever lost it could find it if she came back.

I can't help but wonder how many people saw that ring and left it there for the rightful owner. My faith in humanity is renewed. My heartfelt thanks to all those honest people.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Spy


I love to see what books other people are reading. I don't like to be rude, but it's not beyond me to crane my neck or squint a little to decipher the title of a stranger's book. A great time to spy on the reading habits of the general population is when you're flying somewhere. But, if my latest trip was any indicator, the NEA's right. Reading in America is in dramatic decline. Especially literary reading.

From Little Rock to Philadelphia and back, four different flights in all, plus the airport waiting time, these are the only books I saw being read:

Two people were reading Dan Brown's Lost Symbol (both women), one older woman was reading Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook, a twenty-something woman was reading Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper, one man was reading Mitch Albom's latest book, Have a Little Faith, an older man was reading a Louis L'Amour novel, and one twenty-something guy was reading Dostoyevsky (I couldn't see the title). I think he gets the prize.

To be fair, plenty of people could have had a book in their carry-on that they didn't pull out until we were mid-flight, but I thought the numbers were disappointing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Please, please, just be quiet!


We had a wonderful time in Philadelphia. We saw the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and Ben Franklin's grave. We climbed the steps of the Museum of Art. We had dinner at City Tavern. We ate Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches. We worshipped in historic Christ Church. We sat at street cafes and people-watched.

Oh, yeah, the conference was nice, too.

Even the flights weren't too bad. No late starts, no extended layovers, no missed flights, and I was able to finish reading my Toni Morrison novel. Very pleasant.

Except for the last flight home, from Atlanta to Little Rock. There was a woman on the plane (one row behind me on the other side of the aisle) that almost drove me crazy. Imagine a thirty-something woman with a Valley Girl accent and a voice that carries. Now, imagine her telling her life story to the woman sitting with her, with a special emphasis on the life and times of her daughter Natalieeeeeeeeee and her son Cooperrrrrrrrrr and how utterly special they are--so intelligent! so individualistic! I now know about their play groups, the first time she left them for any length of time, and how her in-laws try to manipulate them into staying at their home every time they visit. I know what magazines she reads (Town & Country's her favorite), where her best friend now lives (Denver), and that another friend recently had her mother cremated and is now struggling with that decision. I discovered that one friend just moved out into the country and she's worried about her with no support network, but she's been relieved to find out her friend has wonderful neighbors. Yadda, yadda, yadda.


The more I tried not to listen, the more she seemed to be all I could hear. The girl right across the aisle from me started the flight trying to study, slowly moved forward in her seat (to escape the offending voice, I'm certain), and finally surrendered and put away her note cards. She spent the rest of the flight hunkered over, elbows on knees, hands over her ears. Defeated.


I tried a time or two to just turn around and look at her, hoping she'd take it as a gentle hint. Nope. Never noticed. Just kept that storyline going.


Next flight, I'm taking ear plugs.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Booking It--Weird Titles

Each year, The Bookseller magazine awards a prize for weirdest book titles. Here is the 2008 Digagram Prize longlist:


A God or a Bench by Anne Betty Weinshenker
All Dogs Have ADHD by Kathy Hoopmann
Baboon Metaphysics by Dorothy L Cheney
Christian Texts for Aztecs by Jaime Lara
Curbside Consultation of the Colon by Brooks D Cash
F**k It by John C Parkin
Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings by Kuzhali Manickavel
Living with Dormice by Sue Eden
Malformed Frogs by Michael J Lannoo
Sketches of Hull Authors by Reginald Walter Corlass
Strip and Knit with Style by Mark Hordyszynski
Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring by Lietai Yang
The 2007-2012 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais by Philip M Parker
The Emotional Life of Contemporary Public Memorials by Erika Doss
The Industrial Vagina by Sheila Jeffreys
The Large Sieve and its Applications by Emmanuel Kowalski
The Price of Everything by Russell Roberts
Toilets That Make Compost by Peter Morgan


What's the weirdest titled book that you've ever read?

Mine would have to be Another Bull$%#@ Night in Suck City, a memoir by Nick Flynn that I was assigned in a Writing Creative Nonfiction class I took at Ole Miss.

Yours?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Say What?

I've never been to Philadelphia before. On the taxi ride from the airport to our hotel the other day, I asked the driver how far we were from the ocean. You may think I asked a dumb question, but wait until you hear his response: "Which ocean?"

I'm not making this up.

I'm Busy Right Now, OK?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sisters, Brothers, and Beauty


I'm presenting this afternoon at 4:30. If you happen to be in Philadelphia, stop by.

Here's the proposal for my presentation:
Beauty is a concept extensively explored during the Age of Reason. Shaftesbury, Hogarth, Burke, Reynolds, and others debated and discussed beauty throughout the century, and although their deliberations are diverse, many of their definitions are highly gendered and prescriptive of accepted social behavior. Beauty was often associated with the good, the pure, the noble, and the virtuous. Physical appearance, for women especially, became a form of competition in their rush to the marriage mart, a fact certainly explored by Austen in her novels.


But physical appearance does not only shape the relationships of unrelated women within a community, all vying for the most eligible young man. It also has a function within Austen’s families. This paper will explore the role of siblings’ physical appearance and how it shapes both the individual and intra-familial relationships. How do physical comparisons among siblings affect personality development and individual behavior? Do these identity struggles lead to growth or despair? Does appearance foster competition among siblings, or solidarity? Does the way children look affect how they are perceived or treated by their parents? By extended family? Does physical beauty or the lack thereof affect male siblings as well as female ones? If so, in what ways?


Bernard J. Paris, in his work Character and Conflict in Jane Austen’s Novels, calls Austen “a serious interpreter of life, and a creator of brilliant mimetic characterizations,” an author who struggles “to combine comic actions with realistic characterizations and serious moral concerns” (13-14). This claim is nowhere more true than in her exploration of physical appearance and its role in family dynamics.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More than Jane



According to the JASNA website, we'll have plenty to do besides listen to papers about Jane:


Philadelphia, though a major metropolitan city, is composed of small neighborhoods that make for a warm, welcoming town.

It is the perfect city for "very good walkers," as founder William Penn laid out the streets in a most rational manner – naming streets that form square blocks using numbers and the names of trees. It is possible, but difficult, to become lost while walking in our fair city.

What, then, shall you do in Philadelphia? Museums, shops, theaters, and restaurants will tempt you to spend time here before, and even after the JASNA conference. If, like Lady Catherine, your natural taste in music is unrivaled, attend a performance of The Opera Company of Philadelphia, The Academy of Vocal Arts, or the world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra.

Philadelphia is home to many museums, large and small. Marianne Dashwood, who possesses the most artistic sensibilities, would certainly visit The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum, The Rosenbach, and The Library Company of Philadelphia.

Perhaps you see harmony and repose in Nature as does Fanny Price. Then set aside time to see The Franklin Institute Science Museum or the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Jane Austen herself, student of history that she was, would tour The National Constitution Center, Betsy Ross's House, Elfreth's Alley, Independence Hall, or The Independence Seaport Museum, all within walking distance of the hotel.

Gourmand General Tilney would be well-satisfied with the city's restaurants: Le Bec-Fin, Buddakan, Alma de Cuba, Moshulu, Fork, and the city's newest, Parc.

In pursuit of satin and lace, Augusta Elton would shop at The Bourse and the many stores on Walnut Street; she would almost certainly pay a visit to Jewelers' Row.

What connects Philadelphia to Jane Austen besides the 2009 AGM? Emma was published here in 1816; the first North American city where an Austen novel was published during the author's lifetime.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Philadelphia, Here We Come

I'm leaving today for the 2009 JASNA AGM in Philadelphia. The theme this year is Jane Austen's Brothers and Sisters.

Besides excellent plenary speakers and creative breakout sessions, Elizabeth Garvie, who played Elizabeth Bennett in the 1980 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice will be there for opening night. Louise West, educational manager of the museum at Chawton Cottage will speak. The 11th Hour Theater Company will present Austentatious. Period experts will instruct, harpists will perform, and there'll be a Regency Ball on Saturday night. They don't get to hear me til Friday. I'll tell you what my presentation's about then.

What fun we will have talking about Jane Austen's brothers and sisters! Did you know that each novel contains at least three sibling pairs? Have you wondered why the Ward sisters of Mansfield Park are so different from one another? Is it their nature, or have circumstances alone created the differences among them? Is the plot in Sense and Sensibility influenced more by the disregard that John Dashwood shows his sisters or by the devotion between Elinor and Marianne, struggling with their new circumstances? Which has been more influential on Emma Woodhouse: Isabella's absence or her presence? Why is Elizabeth Bennet so very different from her sisters? How can five young women with one set of parents range so completely across the personality spectrum? Why is Anne the only thoughtful sister of the Elliot women, when other Persuasion sibling pairs—Harriet and Louisa Musgrove and Frederick Wentworth and Mrs. Croft, e.g.—are so considerate of one another? Oh, what a Henry is Mr. Tilney! He is the perfect brother—isn't he? Will we settle any of these questions after spirited and lively discussion? Perhaps not, but we will have a splendid time trying to answer these and raising many more questions about Austen's brothers and sisters in the novels and how her own sibling relationships inspired and influenced those she created.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What I'm Reading Now

The other day, in the British Lit I class I'm teaching this semester, we discussed Thomas More's Utopia. I provided the students a good-sized list of popular utopian and dystopian novels, books like Johnson's Rasselas, Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and Lowry's The Giver. Not everyone had read all of the books on the list, of course, but between all of us, we'd read most of them. But nobody in the class had read Toni Morrison's Paradise, the last novel on the list. So, a few of us decided to read it and get together and discuss the book. I started reading it this weekend, and I was hooked from the first sentence: "They shoot the white girl first." I mean, how can you not be hooked by an opening like that?


"Nobel laureate Morrison creates another richly told tale that grapples with her ongoing, central concerns: women's lives and the African American experience. Morrison has created a long list of characters for this story that takes place in the all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma, population 360, which was founded by freed slaves. In what could be seen as an attempt to create some of the same mysticism that was present in many of her previous works, Morrison alludes to Ruby's founding citizens, now ghosts, and only minimally focuses on the present generations that have let the founding principles of Ruby's forebears deteriorate. Paradise is an examination of the title itself and deliberately builds into a plot that is unexpected and explosive. This is Morrison's first novel since her 1993 Jazz, and it is well worth the wait."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Booking It--Would You Lie?


According to this article, most Britons have lied about reading books they haven't actually read. Would you? Why? Which one(s)?


I haven't actually lied about reading a book, unless you count "the sin of omission"--simply keeping my mouth shut and hoping nobody realizes I haven't read something. Earlier, I wrote a post about The Shame of not having read a book that everybody else seems to have read. You can check it out if you want.

This semester, on an exam, I did have a student begin his answer to a discussion question like this: "I didn't actually read this stuff, but . . ." Honesty might be a virtue, but offering that information on a test is not the best policy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pre-Selling Sarah



Only a day after HarperCollins announced the pending release of Sarah Palin's memoir Going Rogue (I'm not kidding; that's the real title), the book jumped to #1 on barnesandnoble.com and #2 at amazon.com, behind The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.


What this says about the reading tastes of the American book-buying public, I'm not quite sure. (Do they admire her? Is it morbid fascination? Are they collecting material for their next Saturday Night Live skit? Looking for ammunition to trash her on their blog?)

I wish they'd call me. I could recommend some really good reads.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Awakening, or Not


We started oral book reviews this week in my Honors Critical Thinking class. I'm having only two students present each class period. That way, the class has time to respond, discuss, and ask questions. I try not to micromanage the discussions, to sit back and let the critical thinking take its course, stepping in only when I deem necessary. And, yes, that's terribly hard to do.


This week, one of the students reviewed Sue Monk Kidd's The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, and she did an excellent job. She summarized briefly but adequately, discussed points of agreement and disagreement, ended with a recommendation--all the things a book review is supposed to do.


The problem came in the discussion after her review. At first, all discussion centered around Kidd's book. Some students asked for background or further information, and I provided it. Some made insightful comments about the main points of the review, sparking further discussion. Then, out of the blue, one student started in on Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening. Worst book I've ever read, he said. It didn't make sense, he said. I mean, we have to be careful what we wake up to, and just because women don't like something doesn't give them the right to do whatever they want.


I tried to explain the historical context, the nuances of the book, and of Edna's character in particular. His response? Edna should have realized that God set up a patriarchal culture to protect women and just "get over it."


He was saved by the bell.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Come One, Come All!


The Harding University English Department Announces its

Fall Literary Festival

Readings by Students, Faculty, and Guests

Literary Jeopardy

Refreshments

Thursday, October 1, 7:00 p.m. in Cone Chapel

Come on, you know you wanna be there.