Category Archives: books

Every single one of us wants to be believed

Trying is the point of life
So don’t stop trying

Promise me.”

Amanda Palmer’s got a new song out called “Bigger on the Inside,” and while some of her musicianship is not always my bag, her words always are.

I’ve also been reading her “The Art of Asking,” slowly, in bits and pieces, because it breaks me open with its honesty and straightforwardness in a way that other great writers on vulnerability do (like Brene Brown), but even moreso.  Her perspective is about learning how to make art and silence our inner critic long enough to let ourselves create; it’s about learning how to ask others for help, how to ask without fear, and how our creative drive and our need for interconnection stems from a need to “be seen, understood, accepted, connected.  Every single one of us wants to be believed.  Artists are often just louder about it.”

Yes.  Every single one of us wants to be believed.  Sometimes it just takes us a while to find our voices.

Catching up on books

I have been trying to spend two nights offline a week and to not let myself download any more new books; of course, I started going to the library again. Sigh. So, three short reviews for accountability’s sake.

The Bees, Laline Paul (library) Bee pov, lots of to us, bee-science, rendered as communication and theological worldview, alien sexuality, morality, and really interesting ideas. It went on a bit longer than I thought it should have, but it was really novel and a standalone very good first novel. I guess I would call it sci fi, but since it speculates weird reasons for colony collapse disorder, maybe not really? It’s a good read just for what she does with turning the bee science into the main character’s view of the world, if you are at all into science.

The One and Only Ivan, Caldecott medal winner, book with illustrations. A silverback gorilla in captivity in a mall learns to dream for the sake of a promise he makes to his old elephant friend. This was beautifully told and full of hard, wonderful truths and gorgeous drawings. I cried and cried and cried, but it’s a happy ending. Good for explaining hard truths about people to young people.

Drama, young reader’s graphic novel. A young woman navigates her dreams of tech and set design with the frustrations of friendship, middle school, and budding romance. Lots of friendship drama, very accepting treatment of gay characters, great art and accurate, amazing nonsexist focus on the details of actual backstage theater production ( I was a drama geek). Probably age-appropriately dramatic, and I have just lost my patience for that kind of indecision. The main character’s parents are delightfully patient, and I dig her polychrome hair.

Book review: Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages

I got out of Goodreads because: Amazon and have moved over to BookLikes– I am trying to do better there about posting reviews of books as I finish so that I actually finish.

My review of Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages is there, but the TL; DR  version is this– the book is worth reading even if the first third was a slog of Old Testament-style recitation of Franklin & female forebears, there was a bit too much Benjamin for my taste (and I thought he came out as kind of a douche) and I thought Lepore was a bit heavy-handed in foreshadowing/contrasting the whole “Judith Shakespeare”/Room of One’s Own problem that Jane faced.  Jane was a funny, engaged, interesting lady who put up with a lot, and Lepore’s research shed interesting insights onto Revolutionary Boston & everyday living during Revolutionary times through all the secondary sources she used that I hadn’t read elsewhere.  I’ll probably dig up the biography of Abigail Adams (if I don’t read the Margaret Fuller one) next, and see where it takes me.

Reading Roundup

For all that I worked in a bookstore between 2009 and 2012, my reading fell off dramatically for a while.  I tried to get back on track in 2013– I wouldn’t say my attention span’s entirely recovered, for reasons of: general life stuff, intermittent depression, exciting & super-hectic new job, internet attention span disorder, etc., but I do feel like I put a more concerted effort into reading more, even if I didn’t finish everything, and/or am still working on things I started.  Still, in the interest of accountability (and not so much because I think anyone cares) here are the things I read, or tried to, in 2013:  Continue reading

For now, am found

Rebecca Solnit’s philosophical treatise/geographical rumination/geanological foray/memoir The Field Guide to Getting Lost has been on my list of “books that got rhapsodical reviews but seem Srs Bsns and I’m not sure I’m ready to read” for a while. Partly, I avoided it because the paperback was expensive and not one of the ones that went on the Buy 2, get the 3rd Free table at my old job.  Partly, I avoided it because every once in a while it would come up on someone’s big list of Books Everybody Must Read, because I’m contrary and I don’t like to be told what to do.  I’d read snippets, though, and was intrigued despite my resistance to money and well-meaning advice, and finally I found a good ebook price in the Google Apps store, and downloaded the book for a little over $5.00.

I’m not beyond the straight-out self-help book, and I’m certainly a sucker for a well-written memoir (read Cheryl Strayed, fiction, memoir, self-help, just read her, it’ll be emotional rough going at times but I promise it’s worth it)– and the more eggheaded the prose, if I’m in the right mood, the better.  Paradise Lost?  Alain de Botton?  Yes, please, to both.

Sometimes, though, a book comes along and strikes you in the metaphorical solar plexus at just the right time in your life.  So while maybe I wish I hadn’t put off reading this book for so long, I’m glad that I’m reading it now.

The book is a rumination on all the meanings that being “lost” and being “found” can have– geographical, temporal, familial– permanent, ephemeral– self-constructed or imposed from outside.  It’s a literal onion, one layer right next to and on top of the next, making my eyes water with all its emanations (which is not to say the book stinks, just that it’s powerful stuff).

It’s a short book, 105 pages by my e-reader, and maybe that’s good, because at only page 11, Solnit delivers this bit: The simplest answer nowadays for literal getting lost is that a lot of people who get lost aren’t paying attention when they do so, don’t know what to do when they realize they don’t know how to return, or don’t admit they don’t know.

She’s talking, in that particular moment, of people who become really lost out on hikes, in the wilderness, amongst dangerous rocks and perilous signs of weather unheeded.  But there’s so much to be read into what she says just two sentences later: … there’s an[] art to being at home in the unknown, so that being in its midst isn’t cause for panic or suffering, of being at home with being lost.

You have to accept that you’re lost before you can be found, or do the finding yourself.

First world problems (dear reader)

(A defense of e-readers, in verse, because if one more person sneers at my Nook HD+ I will scream.)

Every time someone sighs and/or rants,
oh, they do prefer a book,
the feel of the pages, the smell,
and don’t you agree that the technology
takes away all the romance?

I’m sorry.  I don’t.
I’m not an early adopter,
and I’m not someone who walks around with her face
in her phone, 24/7.
I’m not in it just for the romance.
I don’t limit myself to only one genre.
I’m in it for the escape.
For the knowledge.
For the expansion of information.
For the portability of all of my books,
because as much as I don’t mind lugging totes
upon totes upon totes of magazines, newspapers,
quarterlies, novels, not to mention the newest
non-fiction must-read, it is
awfully handy to fit all of it into a backlit 64 GB library
I can page through at leisure.
Dear reader, I’m in it for the reading.

I’m not saying books don’t smell good.
I’m not saying that there aren’t times
when I, myself, prefer a pulpy mass market
while I loaf in the bath, nor will I deny the
paper New Yorker I share with my dad
and read while I daven in time with the sway
of the bus through traffic.
I’m not saying that Goodwill paperbacks, twenty-five
cents for the half-dozen, haven’t been my relief
when I’ve been strapped for cash.
I’ll admit, too, pictures of food in cookbooks
aren’t, in fact, quite the same
on the screen as in a big, hefty paean
to cooking from home Ireland France
the newest en vogue restaurant.

Sometimes, though, art’s not the point.
Book design’s not the point. Cost’s not the point.
(Although, I’d point out, lots of those new bits and bytes
of books you claim to despise are cheaper than that hardback
taking up space in your hand.)
And, please, tell me, have you never explored the wide
world of the web and all its design?
It will tumble you over, this I can swear.
Or is it the lack of matteness to which you object?
The fact that you like all your books in a row–
that’s fine for you.  But reader, don’t preach.

Dear reader, though, because that’s what you
tell me you are, a reader, and therefore, by
implication, someone of intellect logic reason discretion,
please consider these facts, consider these questions.
The Collyer brothers died under tons of litter,
most of it reading.
How many trees have died for your preference,
the smell of vanilla under your nose?  (You do understand
that’s the smell of rot, decomposition, the smell that
presages the slow physical death of a book.)
How many authors can’t make it to paper print
in the first place, gleaned out by the oligarchic Big Six?

I will refer you to your reference books,
dear reader, for the arguments about what is
and what is not art, the definitions of highbrow and lowbrow,
and remind you that James Patterson hardcovers
likely constitute at least 1/3 of the book industry’s
annual paper consumption.
Again.  What is art?
Conservation’s important.  So is progress.
I invite you to compare the definitions
of conservative and reactionary.

How many kids, used to the shine of the screen,
will try something out because it’s compact,
because their nimble fingers can slide through
the pages, point, click, choose,
navigate through their books like they’ve
learned to navigate the rest of their lives?
I’d rather they read at all than go back to Fruit Ninja.
I’d add, too, that the e-reader I bought my
elderly dad was his sole consolation
in the days before he had his eyes fixed;
paper print was too small, even large-print.
The changeable fonts and backlight were what got
that inveterate, dear, beloved reader
through the six-month surgical wait-list.

Your opting out of the electronic tide doesn’t change
the fact that time and media formats march on.

I am not saying, dear reader, that there aren’t drawbacks,
that recommending and handing over a book
isn’t the same when it’s electronic,
that there is no simple one platform yet–
I don’t know that I want there to be.

Dear reader, I find that change and working-out of what works exciting.
Evolution, of sorts, even if it’s scrappy, incremental, and
features the occasional hard reboot.
There’s lots of e-crap out there, for sure,
and lots of reformatting and aligning of
operating systems to do, but there are also
paper bodice rippers galore and National Enquirers
in the stands at the grocery store.

Laissez faire, please, and none of your sneers.
I’m acquiring knowledge, and enjoying my book.
Isn’t that the thing, dear reader, that matters?