There Are Flowers In The Attic

flowers-in-the-attic-original-paperback-coverWhen V.C. Andrews’ Flowers In The Attic was published in 1979, it became all the rage for a teenage girl to read it — and by ‘the rage’ you can presume not only the inclusion of the outrage of those who prefer to censor for all rather than interact with their children as well as the rebellion of teens who wanted to flaunt their right to inflame. And I was one of them.

I can’t imagine there’s anyone who doesn’t, 30 years later, know the story of the four Dollanganger children locked in an attic. But if you don’t…

A) you can find reviews via the comments and ‘links to this post’ at The V.C. Andrews Movement / Reading Challenge

and 2) you might want to stop reading this post now — because while I’m not going give a classic book review, I will be discussing the reading of this book and my reactions to it, which certainly will contain spoilers.

I don’t recall buying the book (I believe my younger sister, ever much-hipper and popular than I, got it and I feasted on her literary leftovers), but in any case, I definitely recall reading Flowers In The Attic as a teen. (It was the paperback version, so that would have been when I was about 16.) In fact, it was an incredibly vivid book, which left its marks (marks — not scars) on me. It haunted me so that I had planned to name my son Cory, after that ill-fated twin, in some sort of sentimental attempt to wipe away the sins or offer retribution via resurrection. But before I would come to that decision I would have to find redemption for myself and my reading habits.

I was horrified reading Flowers In The Attic. I’d read Gothic novels before; I’d read so-called smut before. But nothing disturbed me like this V.C. Andrews novel had — and the rumors that it was based in truth did not help my ambiguity at all.

I was repelled by what I was reading — yet compelled to continue reading it. I couldn’t put it down and walk away from it… Why was I reading this creepy story about a cruelty and performed on children by family members? Especially as I’d elected to neither watch Sybil nor read the book just a few years before simply because it was too horrifying. How was I now reading this book — and sympathizing with incest and rape?! And, heaven help me, I was itching to get the next book in the series. It was scary and confusing and it made me question my own morality.

I could have gone to my parents with my feelings; they were open and easy to talk with, as I’ve described before. But I figured whatever I was going to have to articulate to them, I ought to be able to articulate to myself — and so figure it out for myself from there. And let’s be honest, there was a significant about of shame which kept me from admitting what I was thinking and feeling to anyone else.

So I endeavored to struggle through it on my own.

Eventually I learned that my fascination was simply that of a reader drawn to a compelling story, into the lives and emotions of characters. The creepy and horrifying things were supposed to be creepy and horrifying — I was supposed to cringe and feel crazed for those characters (and despise others). And if I allowed (or was willing to have) the author manipulate and suspend my disbelief into feeling for these characters to the extent that I sympathized (or even romanticized in the Gothic sense) the matters of sibling sex and rape (if not classic violent rape, that scene certainly raises questions of ability to consent), I was not some lewd damaged being caught up in some literary Stockholm syndrome-esque relationship with the author — the very fact that I was bothered enough to be forced to sort through so many shades of grey (and pure evil) proved that. If I was engrossed enough in the characters to want to cheer them on through darkness to some sort of victory and happiness, I was simply human.

By the time the sequel, Petals on the Wind, was released in paperback, I had no qualms about reading it. I would go on, with a clear conscious, to read the entire series (save for the prequel), but I never did name anyone Cory. I got over it.

Being reminded of this book recently, I wondered if it would still have such a powerful effect on me; so I decided to get a copy and read it again.

I titled this post There Are Flowers In The Attic for two reasons. The first one is that in rereading the book, I was again moved. Yes, it’s lighter fiction than I am used to reading (perhaps not young adult reading per se, but light in literary terms), but the dark subject matter still moves. I did spot continuity errors (in two places, Andrews confuses the two twins with one another, which made for bumpy & annoying rereading), but it’s still a solidly creepy, horrific novel.

The second reason the flowers remain in the attic refers to a parenting opportunity.

flowers-in-the-attic-vc-andrewsWhen the 13 year old spotted the ‘scary cover’ of the book, she hinted (she’s forever hinting, not asking) that she’d like to read it. Being that there is a strong sibling effect, I knew the oldest daughter would then want to read what ‘we’ were reading.

Both are pretty strong readers, but the eldest, 20, is an Auspie, so she might have additional confusion reading this book, and the 13 year old has abandonment and other issues resulting from her mentally ill, neglectful biological mother. Suffice it to say, I had concerns how either of them would process the book’s subject matter. So I sat them both down to talk about the book and its content.

I told them that I had no problems with either of them reading the book, but that I wanted them to know that the book was scary — and at was at this point that they interrupted me, laughing about how they watch and enjoy scarier movies than I do. Which is true, but, as I explained to them, Flowers In The Attic was far scarier because it wasn’t about vampires, zombies or other fictional monsters; people did the horrible things.

Mothers and grandmothers abused their own children (the girls’ faces fell) — and as a result, the children themselves did things which would, I supposed based on my own reaction to the book, make the girls uncomfortable.

“What things?” they asked.

“There’s some inappropriate sex,” I replied, not wanting to completely spoil the book for them.

There was a pause; no laughing now.

I told them that the book had made me feel creepy and I was ashamed I continued to read it — so much so, that I was too embarrassed to talk to my parents (their benevolent grandparents) about it. So if they wanted to read it, and they felt uncomfortable, they should feel free to quit reading it, talk to someone about how they felt, or both. (This is a general ‘rule’ we teach the kids; but I felt the need to be specific about it with this book.)

The girls looked at each other and then at me, sitting there with my eyebrows arched into question marks. The 13 year old passed on reading it (I suspect it was the ‘sex’ part; she’s quite the prude). The eldest took a look at the book, read the back of it, and said she’d look for more books by the author at the library the next time she was there.

On one hand, I fear I may have not only ruined a potential good read for them but removed their individual opportunity to struggle with their own morality… My intent was not to censor or turn them off of the book.

But on the other hand, I was honest about the book, the subject matter and issues which might arise, and left it to them to decide for themselves what they could handle and/or were interested in reading; and that, in my opinion, is what parents should do.

Even if I denied them the chance to bloom as readers with this specific book, there will be others — there are always others. I hope our continuing discussions about books, and my respect for them as readers, is simply more seed sowing.

FYI, The Complete V.C. Andrews has a contest to win a copy of the newly released Flowers in the Attic/Petals on the Wind bind-up (two books in one) edition to give away.

The Very Best From Hallmark: Greeting Cards Through The Years

the-very-best-from-hallmark-book-coverThe Very Best from Hallmark: Greeting Cards Through the Years, by Ellen Stern, is not a collector’s guide, really; there are no prices or discussion of the secondary market at all. However, savvy collectors and historians who view the world through pop culture vision glasses can learn much from this out of print book published in 1988, which is approaching collectibility itself.

Collectors who are lucky enough to find their cards represented here may ascertain their card’s publication date. Or identify potentially rare cards, such as those which were pulled as failures — like the time Hallmark inadvertently used an X-ray of human bowels rather than the intended heart X-ray for its “heart’s in the right place” card. (Pulled cards would mean fewer in circulation and even rarer finds for collectors — worthy of higher prices, certainly.) But mainly, collectors will gain more insight into greeting cards — in general, and, especially, the Hallmark variety.

(Clearly The Very Best from Hallmark is a corporate sanctioned publication, but I don’t think anyone can challenge Hallmark’s market share superiority or the company’s longevity — both of which speak to the book’s genuine insight into a culture that buys so many greeting cards.)

Ellen Stern’s introduction to the book gives a very brief history of the greeting card along with a rather erratic telling of the story of Joyce C. Hall, Hallmark’s founder. I realize Stern’s job of taking centuries of greeting card history and stuffing it — along with greater detail of the Hallmark company specifically — into a mere 12 pages (including space for images) is no small task; but something’s wrong when I have to re-read paragraphs over again to understand what she’s saying. However, when Stern gets into the aspects about the workings of Hallmark, from art department design to product marketing, she shines.

Here are a few gems:

On a trip to New York in the 1940s, accompanied by Hallmark’s head of corporate design and a couple of artists, [J.C. Hall] would visit Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, and Bonwit Teller — and there be ushered out because the group was taking too many notes on colors, styles, and windows displays. Everywhere he roamed he analyzed, assessed, and appreciated the wares and wonders…

I do this myself; but as I do my note-taking without entourage, I’ve never been escorted out.

In the 1940s and fifties, in department stores and card shops, Hallmark clerks adhered to a dress code — wearing only black, brown, navy, or charcoal gray — so as not to compete with the merchandise.

As a person who’s served a long retail sentence, I find that fascinating — and wonder why they changed the policy.

Dean Walley was a journalism major at the University of Missouri before joining Hallmark. Now one of the senior writers, he’s also the man who offers a marvelous course in American manners — and manners of speaking — to the artists and writers. Projecting slides of old cards from Hallmark’s archives on a small screen, he will rhapsodize on a colloquialism here, chuckle at an antiquated idea there, applaud an adjective, blast a dialect. He loves the high-falutin’ use of the word “grand,” the bravado of “staunch,” the evasiveness of “To a certain cheerful someone.” His sentimental olio embraces cards of every era, every province: a bluebird of the twenties chirping “Please Hurry Back,” a Dutch girl saying “To mine friend,” a tippler saying “Happy Birschday to You,” greetings to the dentist, a quack from Donald Duck. The point is that Hallmark writers must keep up with the language as it changes.

If you collect or read any vintage printed matter &/or antique publications, you know how true — and puzzling — this is; language is often as ephemeral as old paper itself. (Oh, how I’d love to dish with Dean Walley!)

And that’s all before we get to the over 750 images of vintage Hallmark cards.

Looking at the images, I reaffirm my love of vintage illustration. But it’s not all charming — or at least not all simply charming. There are things to note about our culture here.

vintage-hallmark-birthday-cardsSome of these things are noted by the author, like on page 45 where among the images of vintage greeting cards (birthday cards from the 1930s, shown at left) the author observes, “You couldn’t get a drink, but you could still say ‘Hell’ on a greeting card. By the fifties, it would be just the opposite.”

There have been many changes in deed; and our general history has been documented in this specific form of ephemera. In the forward, Stern has this to say:

The ups and downs of our economy, our hemlines, and our mood: such is the grist for the Hallmark mill. The days of our lives, as you will see on the following pages, are reflected in the cards of our days. Prohibition, fitness, the income tax, Vietnam, the G-man, the G.O.P., women’s suffrage, women’s lib, the radio, the jukebox, the computer, talkies, hula hoops, the Atom bomb, the gray flannel suit, the mini skirt, My Fair Lady, Huey Long, Mickey Mouse, the TV quiz show, the fireside chat, the Duchess of Windsor, Miss Piggy, Sputnik, the beatnik, Charlie Brown, Charles Lindbergh, canasta, Mussolini, rationing, cowboys, hippies, hillbillies, bobby soxers, flappers, the Dionne Quints, Valley Girls, the airplane, the blackout, the Crash. The seasons come, the seasons go, and Hallmark is up to the minute.

“Actually, says Bill Johnson [head of Hallmark’s public relations from 1966 to 1985], most cards reflect more everyday life than national events. And a national event does not in itself bring about a card. Most are ignored by the greeting card industry. It would be a folly to pretend that by looking at cards from 1920 to 1935, say, you’d get a full idea of what was going on in America.” But you get a pretty good one.

I think that’s true. Especially what Johnson says. But it’s here that we learn some things which are (rather miraculously) not noted by the author.

As you critical thinkers probably have noticed, there’s not a damn mention of civil rights. I didn’t not present them; they are not in the book (even though Beatniks garner two pages worth of attention).

vintage-hallmark-cards-with-kidsOK, I’ll admit a “civil rights” themed greeting card is probably not too likely to become a best seller, but where are the persons of color? In the over 750 images of “Hallmark’s best greeting cards, spanning seven crowded decades of American life,” I found exactly two cards of what I’ll call non-white people — that weren’t Mussolini or other rather racist depiction of foreign public political figures. I’m sure too that Hallmark made many more racist cards once upon a time — which they were too ashamed of to share in the book — but to not address the whole issue of race is odd… At least show more than two cards with black folks, right?

Whether or not Hallmark does or doesn’t make cards which are more reflective of our society is research I’ll leave for others; but we don’t see much represented here.

Then again, perhaps that’s a problem best explained by the context of the time at which this book was published.

This 1980s book makes clear choices to mention and display the G.O.P. several times (yet I found no clear representations of the Democratic Party) and the republicans of the 80’s certainly weren’t building their platform on civil rights; ultraconservative republicans disliked Affirmative Action and, in a backlash against it, President Ronald Reagan cut funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the civil rights division of the Justice Department. Of course, I could be connecting some dots based on those missing dots, creating an image that doesn’t really exist, but I don’t think so. I think the G.O.P. populist pride slant is part of the book’s construction.

But that doesn’t necessarily detract from the book either. At least not if you are a critical thinker. This book may have intended to document our American history through the social connection of greeting card commerce up to its then present day of 1988, but it also documents, through its selections and omissions, a view of that once present day of 1988 which is now a part of our history.

If this is the sort of stuff that fascinates you half as much as it does me, get a copy. (The book is not as common as you might think for a 1988 title; however, it’s not as rare as the Amazon listings might indicate, so check for it at eBay.) If you’re not sure yet, stick around; I’ll be discussing some more from this book during the next few weeks. (If I make the posts really long, I know you won’t read all of it!)

Of Long Fingernails & Gravediggers

in-the-land-of-long-fingernailsIn the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger in the Age of Aquarius isn’t a work of fiction, but with such a setting and characters like this, Charles Wilkins’ memoir reads as well as one.

In the summer of ’69, Wilkins took a job at a cemetery. The gig alone would be worthy of many stories — and they are in there, believe me — but being a memoir, Wilkins focuses on the people in the place. This may, to some, seem a bit silly — like he’s ignoring the, umm, meat of the situation. Especially when the inside flap of the dust jacket says, “Hardly a day passed that Wilkins did not witness some grim new violation of civility or law, or discover some unexplored threshold in his awareness of human behavior.” But by letting the gross and the grisly, the physical and emotional disturbances, be the backdrop for the stories for what living humans do to and for one another, Wilkins presents the reality of life lived in contrast with death that literally surrounds it. A reality most of us manage to avoid as blithely as we avoid becoming a gravedigger.

Mostly a group of manly-men who hide their lots in life, these gruff men grumble their intolerance of one another and complain about their labor; on the surface they are seemingly oblivious to their proximity to death and loss. But beneath this noise, it’s clear they are aware and questioning… They open coffins to take peeps inside, debate philosophy, and view the pomp & ceremony of religion as a capitalistic endeavor more than comforting faith. Who can blame them? But there’s also a certain poetry to this rag-tag lot of misfits too; from page 93:

“If there were such a thing as a soul, Wilkins, can you imagine what this kind of experience would do to it?” He glances upwards, taps his fingers on the coffin top.

“Wilkins,” he says, baiting me gently, “maybe there’s a soul, and it lasts only as long as the body.”

“And then what?”

“It becomes a story,” he says

Among the big issues of life and death, The Land Of Long Fingernails is a memoir and as such holds the coming of age story of the college-aged Wilkins; in light of all the gruesome, Wilkins grew some.

Readers can too.

In terms of the writing itself, there is one bump. Frankly speaking, the first nine paragraphs of chapter two should have been been the start of chapter one. Getting a close-up of the very real (yet renamed to protect the author and the not-so-innocent) Willowlawn Everlasting cemetery, only to be moved backward for the establishing shot of the 60’s culture was jarring. Rather like stumbling up a staircase, you eventually reach your destination, but really, did you need to be so startled? Fortunately, we recover quickly and Wilkins never makes such a mistake again.

The repellent realities of nature and the “Oh. My. Gawd. That’s unreal!” human actions (be they the repugnant human hypocrisy or cold calculating illegalities) are shocking — but neither they, nor the folks buried underground, are more powerful than the stories of the humans which dig, sculpt, and stamp about living upon the surface.

If Halloween is supposed to be the time at which we explore the veil between the living and the dead, then now is the perfect time to read In The Land Of Long Fingernails; however I wouldn’t limit the book so seasonally. A highly recommended read.

Book Reviews Blog Carnival #29

jane-russell-readingWelcome to the 29th installment of the Book Review Blog Carnival!

In order to keep this list a more digestible length (for those of us with short attention spans!), I’ve taken the liberty of moving a few of the entries to my monthly New Vintage Reviews Carnival (the latest edition of which will be was published on Monday). This was only done in the cases where bloggers had multiple submissions and there were reviews of older books. I hope this upsets no one; I was thinking of visibility/readability (and those ‘bumped’ to the other carnival get more exposure for their review efforts).

A Merry Heart: Jeanne (of Necromancy Never Pays) submitted her review calling the book “a kitsch Amish romance.” This book is presumably (as Jeanne doesn’t provide author info or link to buy the book), by Wanda E. Brunstetter; the first book in the “Brides of Lancaster County” series. (I have to admit that I have a giant perverse streak and so I read this good review about a bad book twice, laughing each time!)

Cleaving: Jessica (of Desperado Penguin) reviews Julie Powell’s follow-up to Julie & Julia, a book about Julie’s foray into the butchery business. (It may not be pleasing — topically or in terms of praise for Powell — but Jessica’s review has it’s own shining moments; a two word hint: “parenthetical asides.” lol)

Code Orange: Nathan of Books For Sale? reviews a thrilling science fiction mystery by Caroline B. Cooney. (Apparently this epic of a boy’ science project gone (potentially?) epidemic is classified as “Young Adult” fiction; but from the review, I’m interested!)

Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover: Jim Wang of Bargaineering reviews Dave Ramsey’s flagship book on personal finance. (Check out the advice Jim dispenses along with his recommendation at the end of the review!)

Do-Over!: Azrael Brown’s review of Robin Hemley’s memoir of his attempts to give himself “do-overs” on the first 20 years of his life (going back to Kindergarten, etc.) is posted at Double-Breasted Dust-Jacket. (“Azrael Brown” is my husband, so I dare not comment! lol)

50th Law: Gene Simms of APMID reviews this book on how useless and restricting fear is by — wait for it! — 50 Cent (aka Curtis Jackson) and Robert Greene. (For those who, as Gene acknowledges, might say, “Wait what? 50 Cent wrote a book?” I strongly suggest this review. I’m pretty ignorant about 50 Cent and might have overlooked this review myself; but Gene’s review is just the sort of book review I like to read and, merits of 50 Cent’s book aside, the review itself is worth the reading.)

Foe: At The Truth About Lies, Jim Murdoch reviews J. M. Coetzee’s supposedly true account of Robinson Crusoe as related by a woman, Susan Barton, who shared Cruso’s last year on the island. (I love how Jim also shares what he learned from his particular copy of this book!)

4-Hour Work Week: DR of The Dough Roller revisits Tim Ferriss’ book and philosophies. (Did he change his mind, or dig in more? Are there merits in re-reading books you didn’t like?)

Gently Does It: At Mysteries in Paradise, Kerrie reviews the first book in Alan Hunter’s British crime fiction series featuring Chief Inspector George Gently. (I particularly enjoyed Kerrie’s inclusion of the author’s foreword, which includes a classic disclaimer: “I hate being criticized for not doing what I had no intention of doing.” That alone makes me want to get a copy and read it. Heh Heh)

In Xanadu: Surbhi Bhatia (of The Viewspaper) reviews William Dalrymple’s travel memoir of a trip retracing Marco Polo’s trip along old Silk Route, from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the the summer palace of the emperor Kublai Khan in China, complete with vial of a vial of holy oil, as Polo did. (Included is an excerpt from the book which humorously exposes the difficulty of communication while traveling — and proves the book isn’t some dry old thing.)

My Body Belongs To Me: At Motherhood Metamorphosis I review this book by Assistant District Attorney Jill Starishevsky (illustrated by Sara Muller), intended to be read to children 3-8 years of age to educate them about their rights to their own bodies and how to respond if someone should violate their rights.

Rapunzel’s Revenge: Monkey Poop‘s Amitha Knight reviews this child’s fairy tale in graphic novel format, by Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale. (Amitha’s excited — and it’s catching!)

Red Sauce, Whiskey, and Snow: Christina M. Rau reviews this book of poetry by August Kleinzahler over at Livin’ The Dream (One Loser At A Time). (Christina is both concise and amusing in her review.)

Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World: Here at Kitsch Slapped I review an anthology of stories based on found paper objects — fiction & narratives collected, aptly, by Davy Rothbart of Found Magazine.

Strangers: Mee, of Books of Mee, reviews the novel-sized ghost story written, originally in Japanese in 1987, by Taichi Yamada. (Included are many links to additional reading which both supports and refutes Mee’s opinions.)

Superfusion: How China and America Became One Economy and Why the World’s Prosperity Depends on It: At, Jensen Liu breaks down Zachary Karabell’s discussion of the geopolitical and economical interactions between China and United States as well as current world economy issues “from a unique angle.” (Liu does an excellent job of breaking down the book into a digestible review — even as he challenges the author.)

The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It: Clark Bjorke (founder of this carnival and blogger at I’ll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book!) reviews this book by Joshua Cooper Ramo who, apparently, believes that things have recently gotten both much worse and much better in a whole new way. (I think it’s quite, err, brave of Clark to confront & question, from time to time, an author who, as Clark admits, probably does hang out with Henry Kissinger. lol)

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane: This novel of a 1991 college student’s investigation into the witch hysteria in 1692’s Salem by Katherine Howe is reviewed by EP of xoxoxo. (Might you be hearing more of this story?)

The Ruby Key: Over at J. Timothy King’s Be The Story, a dad and daughter duo review the youth fantasy novel, which is a first in series by Holly Lisle. (And you get to see the 10 story related items the daughter collected for her show-and-tell “Book Bag” school project too!)

The She-Ra Collector’s Inventory Guide: At Collectors’ Quest I review the only book devoted to these retro action figures which were part of the Masters Of The Universe world. (No flying ponies needed to enjoy the review!)

White Nights: Over at Reactions to Reading Bernadette reviews the audio version of Ann Cleeves’ second book in the Shetland Quartet series, crime fiction set in the Shetland Islands. (Among other things, Bernadette also addresses the issue of jumping right into a series at book two.)

Woman With Birthmark: This forth book in the Inspector Van Veeteren mystery series (by Hakan Nesser) was first published in Sweden in 1996 and has been translated into English (by Laurie Thompson) in 2009; it’s reviewed by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. (Kerrie’s review includes info on the chronological order of translation v. publication, which will be of great use to readers of this long crime fiction series.)

Honorable Mention:

While James J. Gormley’s Exclusive Interview with Dacre Stoker: Co-Author of Dracula the Un-Dead (over at Vampire Books Navigator) isn’t a book review, it is worth reading (Halloween on the horizon or not).

The Book Review Blog Carnival is published every two weeks; here’s where you submit your own book reviews for the next edition. I also will remind you that the New Vintage Reviews Carnival is a monthly carnival, open to reviews of books 10 years or older &/or those books which are OOP (as well as other vintage entertainment items) — I welcome your submissions!

Once Upon A Time… Gothic Romance Tales: Airs Above The Ground

Once upon a time, I read romances.

First of all, they were plentiful in my youth. Not only did the popular paperback novels go from house to house as the adults around me swapped and traded books, but one of my aunt’s neighbors worked for a mall bookstore and he often went (against rules of his employment) and raided the dumpster for the paperbacks which were dumped after the covers had been torn off and returned to the publishers for credit, sharing the free books with anyone who would show up to grab copes when he put out the call.

Second of all, when in junior high our family moved a few miles away from that home near extended family, I ended up at a new school. A shy bookish sort, I was sorely in need of a friend, so when befriended by a fellow reader, I tried to read what she did. And she read romances.

I quickly gave up her favored Harlequins and turned to the bit more complicated, less predictable, suspense and Gothic romance novel varieties. But the shared romance novel reading ended quickly — even before she stole my first boyfriend.

I can’t say that the devastating loss of “Skip” hasn’t tainted, by association, any appreciation of the romance genre (they are forever tied together in my mind), but I honestly had been bored and annoyed with romance novels prior to that tender teenage heartbreak experience. Really. When I was about eight, I had practically gone from horse stories to non-fiction, so I felt silly reading predictable sappy love stories.

Yet, whenever I’ve spotted a Mary Stewart or Phyllis A. Whitney novel, I must confess, I’ve felt a fondness…

At first I told myself that this was some simple sense of nostalgia, memories of early years happily reading at my grandparent’s house while the adults played cards combined with the remembrances of myself as an wistfully romantic girl. Such things would make romance novels seem comforting — like pulp versions of turkey pot pies. Yet there there seemed something more…

Something compelled me to remember these authors and their books favorably after all these years. If I was ever going to know the truth, my truth about these books, there was only one thing to do: give in, purchase a few, and read them.

mary-stewart-airs-above-the-groundI selected Mary Stewart’s Airs Above The Ground to read first because I knew it was not one I had read before (surprising as the book boasts of the beautiful Lipizzan stallions I was so dreamy about as a youngster) and figured that would remove the potential of too much nostalgia.

My copy is a 1970 printing (thrift store score for a dollar or less), but the work was copyrighted in 1965 (a year after I was born!) and that means there are some beguilingly sexist passages for a feminist reader like myself.

On page 216, “our young wife’s” husband asks her if she can manage the “hellish” walk that lies before them in the dark; this is our heroine’s response:

He was already leading the way at a good pace. The question, I gathered, had been no more than one of those charming concessions which make a woman’s life so much more interesting (I’ve always thought) than a man’s. In actual fact, Lewis invariably took it serenely for granted that I could and would do exactly what he expected of me, but it helps occasionally to be made to feel that it is little short of marvellous for anything so rare, so precious, and so fragile to compete with the tough world of men.

On page 219, along the “hellish” walk:

For me the night had held terror, relief, joy, and then a sort of keyed-up excitement; and drugged with this and sleepiness, and buoyed up by the intense relief and pleasure of Lewis’s company, I had been floating along in a kind of dream — apprehensive, yes, but no longer scared; nothing could happen to me when he was there. But with him, I now realized, it was more than this; more positive than this. It was not simply that as a man he wasn’t prey to my kind of physical weakness and fear, nor just that he had the end of an exacting job in sight. He was, quite positively, enjoying himself.

Another favorite, from page 234, about Timothy, the son of the friend of the family who accompanies her on this mystery adventure:

Something about his voice as he spoke made me shoot a glance at him. Not quite authority, not quite patronage, certainly not self-importance; but just the unmistakable echo of that man-to-woman way that even the nicest men adopt when they are letting a woman catch a glimpse of the edges of the Man’s World.

When one removes (or forgives) such things, as (or if) they can, and reads for the story itself, what remains?

mary-stewart-airs-above-the-ground-backOfficially billed as a “romantic suspense story” (presumably not officially labeled “Gothic romance” as it only has the air of the supernatural; there are more logical reasons for creepy mists and the seemingly impossible), Airs is not so much a will-he-ever-love-me romance as a is-my-man-a-dirty-rotten-creep mystery. This, of course, appeals to my jaded personality. So I quickly devoured the 255 pages, wondering if he is a creep, what his weak-arse story will be — and if Vanessa will fall for it (or, maybe, fall for the much younger Timothy?)

I won’t ruin the book for you with too many details or the outcomes. (However, I must tell you that the promised backdrop of Royal Lipizzan Stallions isn’t as rich and predominant as a horse-lover might like… But I’m supposed to have outgrown that romance too, right?) The bottom line is that Airs Above The Ground is, as far as expectations for a bit of romantic suspense fiction goes, pleasantly complicated enough not to be predictable.

It won’t win any awards from me; it is what it is. But I cannot disparage it. And maybe that means I ought not disparage the genre… A few more books will tell.

Weekly Geeks: Organization & Inspiration

This week’s Weekly Geek is “Tools Of The Trade”:

Book blogging, as a concept, is essentially pretty simple: If you have Internet access and an opinion about a book, you can be a book blogger. However, actually maintaining a book blog is much more complicated — our blogs are labors of love that require a lot of time, energy and devotion. For this edition of Weekly Geeks, I want to focus on the little things that make your blogging and/or reading life a bit easier. …Tell us about what makes your blog tick. Is there something specific that keeps you organized or inspired?

weekly-geeks-book-pileHowever the answers they seek — at least from me — are far less about physical or digital assistance; I need mental help *wink*

On one hand, my deviation here might stem from the fact that I do not describe myself as a “book blogger.” As a reader, bibliophile, accumulator, collector, researcher, I have many reasons to read books; as a person suffering from logorrhea, I naturally talk about what I read — and how what I read fits into or connects with my life, collections, work, other reading, etc. Anywhere I write/blog, no matter the subject, books and other publications pop into the conversations, even though I’ve never been dubbed “the book blogger” or had my column called “about books.”

On the other hand, it seems I’m always slightly tilting meme questions… So here goes more of the same.

Remaining organized and inspired as a reader who writes about books involves, for me, the very same challenges as it did before I was stuffing the tubes of the internet with words about books.

My organization, of which I admit a general lack of, still depends upon the traditional use of stacks. Not only the stacks of “to be read” books, which I think all readers have to some degree of toppling nature; but stacks of “to be blogged about.” I keep at least two stacks which assist my blogging progress.

One right at my desk, so that I cannot over look them (try as I might) because they will soon slide onto my keyboard.


Another, primarily library books so that they do not get lost in the milieu, usual sits near the sofa for reading; their very public placement is a reminder to read (and, typically required, renew) them before I accrue fines. (When it’s time to review a few, the whole stack is then moved to sit precariously atop of my pc’s case.)


Remaining inspired is not typically a problem; I am the sort of person who easily becomes obsessed — with the reading of, talking about, and further researching about what I’ve read. But what I and my blogging suffer from are what I call inertia issues

Bouts of reading do not wish to be interrupted by reviewing; bouts of reviewing do not like to be hampered by not having read anything new; bouts of research/reading in one area ignores others. These things, of which time and personality are both critical factors, can make for series of posts that skew my blogging heavily. Which is to say that new visitors to my blog who happen by during a period in which I’m heavily into one activity or interest — and by virtue of not sharing that interest — may leave quickly, not seeing their more shared interests lay, like layers of an onion, deeper within.

I do try to remember these possibilities and address them.

Using blog carnivals (such as — shameless plugs — the Book Reviews Blog carnival which I’m hosting on the 25th and the New Vintage Reviews carnival, which includes books, that I host monthly), helps remind me. Submission due dates are reminders that post must be written.

But primarily I keep an eye on my stacks. And they on me. The growth of all of my stacks — through their tumbling acts — nags. This creates a balance at the blog which does really exist within myself or my habits.

As my “to be reviewed” stack slips precariously towards my keystroking fingers, I try to avoid being annoyed at the disruption and take it as a cue that I’m more than a little behind in my reviewing. As the family sighs at having to operate around my stack of library books, I try not to let that upset the reader in me who wishes for more time to read, but acknowledge that, yes, I am a more than a little behind in my reading.

I’m always a little behind in my reading.


Whatjamacallit Wednesday: Myrtle The Turtle

My mother is the one who started it, this tradition of making up silly songs to sing to your kids. I’ve twisted it onto singing songs about my children, usually silly rhymes sung to melodies from television themes songs — like Hunter’s Boo-Bear, Meet The Boo-Bear based on The Flinstones.The kids used to love it, but then they grew older and not-so-much… I must now wait for them to grow old enough to appreciate them again.

One of Allie’s favorites was grandma’s Myrtle The Turtle who would “swim any hurdle — just to be near her Allie.” So when I found this Myrtle The Turtle, a story by Ernestine Cobern Beyer (illustrations by Mildred Gatlin Weber), inside the July 1964 issue of Wee Wisdom, I instantly thought of Allie and began singing the song. Thank goodness I was home alone flipping through the pages & singing, or… Well, let’s just say that if the kids who know the songs and presumably love me no longer can rise above my crazy singing to enjoy the special memories created by such silly songs, how can I expect the general public to?


My mom bought me this vintage copy of Wee Wisdom when we were out antiquing together because she know how much I love Great Danes. Now that I’ve found Myrtle in here, I wonder if she’ll want it back? …I myself am tempted to remove the Myrtle pages (ack!) and frame them for Allie for Christmas. Better yet, just make really high quality scans, print two great copies and frame a set for each of them… (If either one of them pop in here, all bets — and gifts — are off.)


Brown-Baggin’ It With An Anthology Based On Found Ephemera

requiem-for-a-paper-bag-found-anthologyRequiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World is a Found Anthology put together by Davy Rothbart, creator of Found Magazine. In this collection, Rothbart gave his famous hipster (I say hipster, because when a book begins with multiple references to both ramen noodles and found porn, what else can you say?) friends an assignment: Share a personal story about something fascinating that you yourself have found, or write a piece of fiction sparked by a particular find.

The resulting works are a feast for anyone who has found something and pondered the meaning or occasion of it — and yes, I mean anyone. Because you don’t have to be an ephemera collector to have found a found scrap of paper, a photograph stuck in a book, some trinket and have either wondered or even made up a story about it yourself. (And if you say you haven’t done it, I’m calling you a dirty rotten liar!)

Like any well-done anthology, each of the of 67 pieces submitted by the celebri-hipsters is, ramen noodles and porn aside, a unique little gem.

Seth Rogen’s Wet & Wild may not have been shocking to me (I’ve got my own experiences with found porn; and who would be surprised Rogen would have a connection to porn?) but, like Steve Almond’s No Panties Allowed, the narrative adds to our collective illumination into the discomforts on the way to personal discoveries about sexuality.

Byron Case’s Trash Night reads so much like a memory of my own that even though I’ve never been lucky enough to make trash picking more than an annual event, I found myself nodding and laughing conspiratorially.

requiem-for-a-paper-bag-pageSarah Vowell’s What Else I Know About U.S. History (a written response to a scrap of note paper found by Rona Miller of South Bend, Indiana) is so very Vowell in voice, that I can hear the emo as if she’s speaking the piece — and yes, that’s a fabulous thing.

And while Bich Minh Nguyen’s quote probably remains the most poetic, it’s Heidi Julavits’ Woodstove Girl which is the most haunting for me… It lingers… I wish I knew if it was real or a fiction piece.

Overall Requiem is a tasty dish, suitable for deouring in one leisurely buffet-style meal or for savoring in snatched snack-sized portions ala carte.

Book Review Blog Carnival Submissions Call

book-review-blog-carnivalEvery two weeks the Book Review Blog Carnival highlights special book reviews from book blogs across the internet; the most recent edition, number 28, is now up at Books For Sale?

I’ll be hosting carnival number 29 here, at Kitsch Slapped, on October 25th. So, if you’re a book blogger or otherwise have posted a book review or two (more?) at your blog, please submit your own book reviews for inclusion in the 29th edition of the Book Review Blog Carnival. The carnival is open to all genres — fiction, non fiction, children’s books, whatever!

My Summer of ’79

At 15, I was straddling the simple romantic fantasies of girlhood by day — and the hormonal induced sweaty-pink-bit-manipulations by night.

By day, I still played with Barbie & her friends. Still playing with Barbies was not something I advertised; I didn’t invite my girlfriends over to play with me. Like my nocturnal activities, this was the solo-play of self-discovery.

Playing with Barbie was like warm comfort food; I understood the rules and romance in playland, even if I didn’t understand the ways of the boys around me who had suddenly started reacting to my well-beyond-just-budding breasts.

But at night, I got hot and sweaty for Andy Gibb — via his posters on my walls.

angy-gibb-posterEspecially that poster of Andy with his dark blue satin baseball jacket worn open to expose what I could only then (and now) best describe as a tree of hair — with a trunk that went down past the navel to what I could only then bear to imagine as another system of hair at the root… Leading to that something that beefed-up his tight satin pants. And that magnificent mane of hair on his head, ahhh... it still works.

But before I begin to get lost in teenage masturbation fantasies, let’s just say that solo-play was far more productive in terms of my nighttime studies; learning the ins-and-outs of myself, physically & emotionally, was easier than figuring out interpersonal play by myself. But I did learn much about me.

At 15, I knew the score — or at least what scoring was — even if I wasn’t ready for it. At least not with a boy. If I was going to give in — and I wasn’t sure I was — it would be with a man who knew what he was doing.

Since I was an avid reader, Barbie wasn’t my only form of entertainment. (Nor was masturbation — quit trying to get me off the subject!) As an avid reader with a voracious appetite for books, my parents let me read freely from anything on the bookshelves at home and at the library. I hadn’t needed my parents’ permission for any reading material since what, I was 6, 7? I read what I wanted, and asked questions when I needed to.

For example, when I was about 10 I read a mystery book which presented a mystery it hadn’t intended. I forget the title and author, but the passage went like this: “and then he threw the flaming faggot into the fire.” Since the only definition for ‘faggot’ I knew was the same for ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ (hey folks, it was 1974, and folks were ‘out’ in theory even if I didn’t know anyone personally); I was at a loss. How could a man who was alone throw another man into a fire? And if there was someone around, why hadn’t he been mentioned earlier? Shouldn’t there have been some sort of exchange or motive? Was it just bad writing?

Book in hand, I approached my mother, showed her the passage and asked for help. How she kept a straight face (no pun intended) while explaining that ‘faggot’ was an English word for cigarette, I’ll never know… But I do know that not only had she helped me with my vocabulary but I helped her by letting her know what I knew. That’s what parenting is all about, yes?

So, flash forward five years to me at 15 again. I dragged myself away from Andy Gibb’s gaze, left Babs alone (that’s not a euphemism; I refer again to the classic fashion doll), and look for a book on my parents’ book shelf.

summer-of-42-coverA title caught my eye, The Summer of ’42 — something about it was familiar. I remembered vaguely the book making news… Something about sex & banning the book… Hmm, I thought, I hope it’s not as dumb as Catcher in the Rye. (That book did nothing for me, sorry.) But curiosity won, and I took Summer of ’42 to my room and read it.

The book was well-written, but it was from the point of view of a boy, which I found faintly disinteresting. A group of boys who want to get laid, gee, that was news to a 15 year old girl with big boobs. But I hung with it (to date, I’ve only quit reading 3 books — I’m a girl who believes in commitment), and I learned a few things.

Like Hermie’s date with Aggie. Hermie thinks he’s getting lucky by touching her breast — a deformed breast lacking any nipple — only to discover later that he’d been fondling and groping her shoulder. (Hey, Andy Gibb would never, ever, have made that mistake!) This only confirmed my belief that boys were stupid. They were in such a rush, they missed pretty basic stuff. Idiots.

But at the end of the book, the cumulative lessons learned left me once again surprised: I’d read another banned book that left me wondering why it would need to be banned. Frankly, I still am.

Sure, Hermie (an under-age boy) has sex with an older (adult) woman; but it’s depressing. It’s not erotic. Nor is it abusive or crude. In fact, it scared me about my fantasies about Mr. Gibb. I mean Hermie was in love, head over heels in love — ga-ga — and after what he thinks is such a beautiful moment, this woman cries and leaves him. Sure, she was vulnerable with her husband’s death and all, but clearly, she didn’t want some kid. Ouch. And hey, Hermie’s got feelings! Who knew boys had feelings?

This was not some sex-filled-romp of adolescence. This was not some titillating erotic entertainment piece. This was heartbreaking. Even at 15, a never-been-kissed-by-a-boy girl, I recognized the agony of misplaced virginity. I knew that a first time, a first love, a first f***, was sacred. This wasn’t some fodder for a solo-f***-fest, some sensationalized erotic entertainment — far from it. It was a warning. Not only were young boys not practiced enough to find a boob, but they were immature enough to not know they should protect their hearts. While I felt that I would fare better in the groping department, I knew I was likely as lame in matters of the heart.

Not long after, Barbie was put away and didn’t see sunlight until we had a garage sale. I had mastered what I needed to know: romance was a fickle bitch, boys could indeed be hurt too, and romance could be as plastic — as one-sided — as a fashion doll.

I still masturbated to images of Andy, but I no longer romanticized meeting him after a concert and that he’d fall in love with me. It was just sex — just sex in my mind. And it was safer for me at that time to leave it at that. Too bad Hermie hadn’t been that self aware, hadn’t protected himself… And no wonder the older woman who should have known better, but was so affected by her own broken heart she couldn’t think straight, left town asap.

I grew up quite a bit reading Summer of ’42, and I likely saved myself some pain. I’m not saying I mad no mistakes; my life is a character-building exercise. But I made less mistakes, less painful ones. I have Herman Raucher to thank for that. And my parents — for they let me read.

Just last week I asked my mom if she knew that I had read Summer of ’42; yes, she had. I asked her if she was, well, creeped out by it. Her reply? “No. You always came to us if you had questions. …It was a sad story, wasn’t it?”

Yeah mom, it was sad. Sadder still to know that some kids weren’t allowed to read it. Thank you, mom and dad, for being good parents.

banned books Epilogue: Some kids and adults are still not allowed to read or view Summer of ’42 because it has been banned from their libraries. Or they’ve been told to avoid such ‘horrible’ works. I can’t speak for the film, but if you get a chance, read Summer of ’42. It might be too late to save yourself from past mistakes, but it’s never too late to learn something.

Read it this week, Banned Books Week, buy Banned Books Week merch, blog about it and read what others have to say — and celebrate your freedom to read.

Interview With Nicole Zoltack

bbaw_interview_swapThis week is Book Blogger Appreciation Week and festivities include today’s blogger interview swap, in which we were paired with another book loving blogger and (surprise!) interview one another. My interview partner is Nicole Zoltack is a medieval fantasy romance author, book reviewer for Long and Short of It Reviews and reviewer and editor for Dark Diva Reviews. (She’s posted her interview of me here.)

Nicole and I had never bumped into each other before; despite that, she was game to answer even the tough questions — including somethings you may have wanted to know, but were afraid to ask. *wink*

Please share a childhood memory that captures your joy of reading.

One book that I read repeatedly was called Tiffany the Disaster. I loved the title character. She was so pretty and got into a lot of trouble. Nothing seemed to faze her! I loved her so much that for awhile, in all my stories, the main female character’s name was Tiffany. You might think that means that if/when I have a little girl that I’ll name her Tiffany but no. I’m all Tiffany-ed out! But I’ll be sure to read her the story.

Nicole, has any adult situation compared to that first ‘falling in love’ with reading you experienced as a child?

Nothing truly compares to that first ‘falling in love with reading’ moment. I read as much as time allowed when I was a child. Now, with the responsibilities of being an adult, I don’t have anywhere near the amount of free time that I had to devote to reading. The best part of growing up and being a reader is that now that I’m an adult, I don’t get the faces from going to read the classics or other more adult books that I used to receive when I was younger. I love being able to read whatever book strikes my fancy, regardless of the subject matter or the genre. And I have more money to spend on books than I did as a child. So it balances itself out.

Has being an author changed your relationship with books? Do you view book reviews differently? Are you more critical when reading? Have your reading tastes changed?

Being an author has definitely changed by relationship with books. I often have to turn off my internal editor button so that I can enjoy what I’m reading instead of thinking, too much back story or too passive or too many adverbs. I am able to look at books at a different level, as a reader or as a writer. I can learn more from reading than I did before, what works, what doesn’t, how to incorporate back story into the story instead of just dumping information. I am definitely more critical but I still love to read and always will. My reading tastes haven’t changed as I’ll read anything. As for book reviews, I appreciate them more now as an author than when I was just a reader. I understand how much a review means to the author and since I am a reviewer myself, I look to other reviews when I want to buy another book.

Do you think the increase in popularity of romance & fantasy fiction, especially historical varieties, is symptomatic of a deeper desire to escape “today” and the stress in our lives?

I would agree that many people today want to escape from their problems in today’s world and turn to reading as an outlet and that’s reading in general, of any genre although romance is the biggest seller out of all the genres. Last year, romance fiction generated $1.37 billion in sales. When people need a break from stress, they need to find an outlet for that stress. What better way than to bury their nose in a book? Yes, the stories may have a fairy tale ending but an uplifting ending can make the reader happy and hopeful.

Some say that as a culture we’ve become delusional, dependent, upon the notion of romance & romantic fantasies in general (not specifically the genre of books, but other media, such as films); these people blame such fantasies for contributing to the high divorce rate. Not to make you the defender of all in your genre, but do you think there’s any truth to that? Why or why not?

This is a difficult question to answer and I’ll do my best.

I love romances. Obviously, or else I wouldn’t write them.

All forms of the media, from romance novels to movies to television, give the public a skewed idea and representation of love and relationships. Love is always idealized, prefect, pure.

It’s important for readers to keep from having unrealistic expectations concerning love and relationships. Books and movies are not like real life; we read or watch them to escape the real world. We read and see a fantasy. It’s fun and wonderful to read about Prince Charming but your boyfriend or husband is going to burp and do other things you really wished he wouldn’t. He’s not going to be romantic all the time. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love you or that you aren’t in a good relationship.

You can’t sit around and wait for a prince to rescue you and whisk you away on a white horse. It isn’t going to happen, and you’ll experience heartbreak after heartbreak. No one is the perfect romance hero. But that doesn’t mean that you should just settle either. Wait for someone that makes you happy, not just warm and fuzzy inside. The warm fuzzes disappear after your hormones die down. Real relationships will have ups and downs and need communication, compromise, and hard work. Anything that’s worth having is worth fighting for.

You have to keep your expectations realistic. Hollywood and romance novels should an unrealistic ideal. But you can still have love and experience it. Only in a different fashion.

So people can enjoy the romantic ideal that is portrayal in movies and books so long as when the movie is over or they’ve finished the book, they know that their love not going to be as simple or easy as it was portrayed.

Just so you know, I think any subject/activity/food is fine; delusions, addictions, etc., whether chocolate, porn, or book genres, are a matter of moderation &/or mental state! But for those who eschew romance novels, give us a list of “classic romance fantasy” titles people should read before they form or state an opinion about the genre.

1. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

2. Anything by Tamora Pierce, especially her Lioness Quartet

3. Anything by Mercedes Lackey

4. Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Anything you’d like to add, Nicole?

If you think you might like a book, pick it up and read it. What do you have to lose? And who knows, it just might become your favorite book.


Thanks, Nicole!

When Nicole isn’t working on Knight of Glory, Book II in the Kingdom of Arnhem series and sequel to Woman of Honor, she spends time with her husband and adorable little son. Her love of everything medieval led to her having a Renaissance wedding and a ever-growing sword collection.

You can keep up with Nicole at her blog and via Twitter.

I’d also like to take a moment to alert BBAW folk to my New Vintage Reviews Carnival; if/when you review “old” books, please submit them to the carnival!


Best Magazine Covers Of The Year

Over at Pink Populace Paparazzi Parade Exposé, Alessia (of Relationship Underarm Stick) posted a challenge for all of us to participate in & discuss Amazon’s Best Magazine Covers Contest; these are some of my votes & thoughts.

I might be a lesbian, or at least bi, because I bypassed the obvious beefcake of Matthew Mitcham & Rafael Nadal and voted Angelina’s Vanity Fair Cover as The Sexist Cover.


Too bad I also couldn’t vote it Most Delicious Cover too.

But that honor had to go to Bon Appetit (August 2008) — mainly because something had to get the bad taste out of my mouth from the October 2008 cover of The New York Times Upfront featuring some kid biting into a (live?) raw fish head; and I can choke down ice cream in most any circumstances.


Speaking of stuffing your pie-hole…

The Advocate‘s May 2009 issue illustrating the Porn Panic feature is awesome. I want that as a poster. So it got my vote for Best in News & Business.


For Best in Fashion & Beauty, I simply couldn’t — wouldn’t — vote for the February 23, 2009 issue of New York. While I’d love to support a cover featuring a completely un-retouched photo of a model, I simply will not support Kate Moss. Won’t my future payments for her methadone treatments be enough?


So it was the May 2009 Elle with the submerged Barrymore which got my vote for Best in Fashion & Beauty; because fashion & beauty are both about unrealistic fantasies, and I’m fine with that. (I am not fine, however, with people who contort, mutilate and harm themselves in pursuit of such fantasy — nor with those who wish to impose fantasy as a reality.)


However, I must state that the Elle cover beat the October 2008 cover of W, featuring a delicious Anne Hathaway, by a (long-held) breath.


Another close category was Best in Science, Technology & Nature. I was torn between the beauty of Andrew Zuckerman’s portrait of a blue-and-yellow macaw on the cover of the August 2008 issue of Audubon and the effective use of typography on the May 25, 2009 issue of New York.


In the end I voted for the macaw; but I now feel bad, like I gave New York “the bird.” But then, once I saw the Audubon cover, I started thinking about Fred, the blue & gold I almost bought years ago, and was distracted… Which is contrary to the “why distraction may actually be good for you” story New York was illustrating, so things may have ended as they ought to have… But my distraction was not good for you, New York.

While I enjoyed Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart’s Entertainment Weekly cover, when it comes to Best Obama Cover, the clear choice — the only choice — is the May 3, 2009 cover of The New York Times Magazine. This incredible portrait of an intelligent, concerned & pensive man was neither posed nor done in a studio.


It’s a good thing for Angie & Vanity Fair that this cover wasn’t an option for Sexist cover; bad thing for me though — this photo of Obama makes me hot.

The Colbert & Stewart cover got my vote for Best in Entertainment & Celebrity, though. (And with Colbert’s Nation behind him, there’s no doubt it will win at least one of the categories; let’s hope it’s this one, not Best Obama cover.)


Real Simple (June 2008) got my vote for Best in House & Home.

That, my friends, is the dream of all dreams. Forget your fancy artistic homes that you know are no more livable than the fashion fantasy cover of Drew Barrymore underwater, organization like that is something far more compelling… It’s functional beauty. I hope. It’s a nirvana I’ve long imagined… Especially when searching for that mauve pencil — one that’s not too pink, not to lavender, but mauve.

Andy Anderson’s photo is so incredible, that I quickly voted for it as Best in Lifestyle — it wasn’t until I was here, blogging, that I realized I voted for Garden & Gun (December 2008/January 2009). Garden & Gun?! That’s a magazine?! It sounds more like some word association game held by college dorm dwellers passing a joint… But, uh, OK. And pass the Cheetos, please.


The last category was Best in Sports & Fitness. As a sedentary blogger, the most exercise I get is walking to the mailbox & carrying my magazines back to the house, so what do I know?

In the end, I voted for the Sports Illustrated cover, bypassing more beefcake — Justin Timberlake on the cover of Golf. I could argue that golfers get about as much exercise as I do, or that I the SI cover had two nearly-bare male bods; but honestly, I just wanted to start organizing my desk so that it would look like the cover of Real Simple.

Now it’s your turn; tell me who you voted for in Amazon’s Best Magazine Covers Contest. (Or at least just vote — you could win a $10,000 gift card!)

Weekly Geeks: The Experience Of Reading & Reviewing Books

weekly-geeks-book-pileThis week’s Weekly Geeks challenge is a response to author Shannon Hale’s post about evaluating and reviewing books; we were to respond to the questions Hale asked in one of three ways — but I’m just going to go ala cart.

Since Hale’s post was as much for readers as reviewers, I feel I should start with a bit of my basic book philosophy, that reading is an experience. As such, the book is as much a prisoner of the reader’s context — your context — as it is the author’s, and the time and place in which the work was written, edited, published, etc.

Even if a book is not, as Zaid says, a conversation — or if you only view a book as a one-sided conversation — the reading of it is the process by which the book becomes alive, useful, “on.” (An unread book is just an object, art in a closet, a sweater you were given at Christmas that you don’t like enough to wear, or have no place to wear — at least not yet. Perhaps you intend to read it, but until you do, there’s no real experience with it — other than the experience you had obtaining it.)

camper-girls-1910sReading, like any other experience, does not exist in a vacuum; you take stuff with you going in. Some of it is practical, but much of it is subjective & personal. Like a hiker heading out on the trail, you take along your knowledge, educated opinions, dreams, expectations, likes & dislikes — and your previous experiences. Are you familiar with the territory? If so, is it too familiar — boring and formulaic? If it’s new territory, is it full of exciting discoveries? Or is it overwhelming, not for the novice? Perhaps you were poorly lead by the guide? Or maybe you were the problem, ill-prepared, lazy, or otherwise not up to the challenge. If the failings were yours, should you try again — would you?

In any case, whatever you discovered during your experience, including knowledge about yourself, those are the things you discuss with others upon your return.

Are you reacting to any fears or insecurities?
What was it about the story that resonated?
Would you have loved this book as much five or ten years ago?
Will you continue loving it in the future?
Where are you in your life that this is the story you wanted and needed?

Answering these questions is a somewhat natural process; you are automatically sorting & sifting through these things when you read a book and think to yourself how your sister simply must read this book, or how your girlfriend would hate the heroine, or how your father would pick the science apart. You might not articulate these things as well as a reviewer does (or ought to do), but you are making the connections.

vintage-campersDepending upon who you are talking with, your tale may vary. When talking with those who have never been, you might describe the trail (plot) in greater detail. With those who have been, you can share those insider jokes & stories (spoilers and “you had to be there” moments). With those who are either planning on going or those who you sincerely believe must go, you tailor your tale to arouse their interest without ruining their own discoveries (you can share those “had to be there” moments after they’ve been there). Conversely, if you hated the trip, or had places where you struggled, you share those accordingly as warning. And for those with no interest whatsoever in the subject, you will simply comment what a great (or poor) trip you had — and should they politely ask questions, you will steer your comments towards things your companion can relate to.

Reviewing isn’t that much different — but it does add another layer, another experience.

A book selected (or assigned) for review will have those additional contextual constructs affecting the experience. You know you will be having conversation, regardless of your impressions of the book — and let’s face it, not every book you read is necessarily one you care enough to talk about. Why? Because maybe it failed to show you any magnificent views. Maybe it didn’t ignite a memory, provoke an idea, force a feeling, or jog an interest. Maybe it didn’t even offend you enough to warrant warning others. It was, overall, a rather unremarkable experience — but one you must record nevertheless.

(In the past decade of reviewing online, I’ve had my share of those! Quickly, I learned not to accept books or items I would otherwise have no interest in; if I wouldn’t buy it or at least want to buy it, I won’t take it for free — the price paid for having to write a review full of “I don’t usually read” and disclaimers regarding my own lack of knowledge, experience or interest is even less fun than reading a book for which I have little knowledge, experience, or interest.)

As I myself never use rating systems for anything in life, I do not use them with continuing the book’s conversation. (When forced to use them at sites like Amazon, I’m continually chafing at the lack of options — Why no zero rating, no 3.5 stars? There’s never been a rating system that really works for me.) This is part of my personality, as subjective as anything else in the experience of reading and discussing books.

For me, the primary mandate of reviews is honesty: I’m very aware of my obligation as a reviewer. I may not know all of my audience (blog readers) as well as I do my circle of family & friends, so I face a different circumstance in conversing. Using the hiker analogy again, I must write either a review of the hiking spot for a general audience of hiking enthusiasts (taking into account the varying levels of experience, but focused on the trail), or I must write, as I do here at Kitsch Slapped, for an audience that is more interested in what I opine — keeping in mind that what I have to say about my discoveries and experiences is at least equal to what I am writing about.

In either case, I must be fair to disclose not only what I liked &/or didn’t like, but why — and what things are purely subjective to me & my experience including my personal tastes, my failings — my penchants and peccadillos.

camp-merry-meeting-1920sAnd I, like the authors themselves, must accept that even though we are all part of the same group of bookish explorers taking in the same views, we will have different experiences, different tastes, and different reviews.

Images via FuzzyLizzie’s vintage hiking & camping gallery.

The Serendipity Of Teaser Tuesday

teaser-tuesdays-iconI just discovered Teaser Tuesday via Tina, the Creative Nerd and I decided to “play along” because the serendipity gods were with me this week — look at the lovely bit I flipped to on page 53 of Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World (a Found anthology collected by Davy Rothbart):

What does it mean when you forget how you found something? It means you want to have had it all along. It means you don’t want to think about the loss that precedes the finding.

(Yeah, I broke the role by giving you three lines; but come on, breaking up those lines from Bich Minh Nguyen‘s How I Found My Mother would be like ruining a poem!)

As for future participation in this book meme, well, that depends upon how on top of things I am… If the blogging keeps me from reading, who wants 6 weeks worth of teasers from one book? *wink*

How to participate in Teaser Tuesdays:

  1. Grab your current read
  2. Open to a random page
  3. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  4. Share the title & author, too, so that other Tuesday Tease participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
  5. Link back to Teaser Tuesday’s home (or post your Teaser Tuesday as a comment in that week’s comments).

Culture Is Conversation; Illiteracy Silences Voices

Each year since November 17, 1965, UNESCO reminds us of the status of literacy and adult learning globally with International Literacy Day. Currently the state of illiteracy is alarming:

* one in five adults is still not literate
* two-thirds of those are women
* 75 million children are out of school
* many more children attend school irregularly or drop out

As I do not posses the concise elegance that Gabriel Zaid and translator Natasha Wimmer have, I’d like to illustrate the importance of literacy with another quote from So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance:

Culture is conversation. Writing, reading, editing, printing, distributing, cataloguing, reviewing, can be fuel for that conversation, ways of keeping it lively. It could even be said that to publish a book is to insert it into the middle of the conversation, that to establish a publishing house, bookstore, or library is to start a conversation — a conversation that springs, as it should, from local debate, but that opens up, as it should, to all places and times.

Culture, in the anthropological sense of “way of life,” manifests and reproduces itself live, but it is also a collection of works, tools, codes, and repertoires that may or may not be inert text. The same is true of culture in the limited sense of “cultural activities.” In both senses, what is important about culture is how alive it is, not how many tons of dead prose it can claim.

How much of our culture — of other cultures — are dead or dying due to illiteracy? How many tons of text dead because no one can claim it?

How many conversations void of voices, their owners unable to crack the codes to participate in them? If you blog, how many people are missing from your published conversations? And how many conversations do not even exist because people are unable to start them?

I don’t think we can afford such losses.

Here are six simple things we can do to increase literacy:

Weekly Geeks: One Title, Multiple Copies

This week’s Weekly Geek is about a collection of books of one particular title:

[T]ell us, do you have a collection, (or are you starting a collection,) of one particular book title? If so, what’s your story? Why that book, and how many do you have, and what editions are they? Share pictures and give us all the details.

It will probably not surprise anyone who knows me & my “serendipitous path to discoveries” that any multiple copies of books are unintentional. Did I say “any” copies? I meant many copies…

duplicate-book-finds See, the problem with just letting universe steer your discoveries, is that you don’t exactly have a shopping list.

And you don’t exactly head into Barnes & Nobel with much of an agenda — at least not as often as you stroll through used book stores, thrift shops, rummage sales, flea markets, even curbside boxes on trash days, touching & paging through as much dust (and sometimes mold & mildew) as you do paper, on your way to discovery…

And when you trust universe to lead you, you buy it when you can afford it. Even if — especially if — it’s a box of books at an auction.

Online serendipity aside (for online discoveries & purchases tend to send me to my shelves to double check before I click & buy), all of this means purchasing duplicates or multiples of books is imminent. (Hubby has already documented the details of some of the titles, shown in this photo, at his book blog.) As for why we retain ownership of redundant titles, same prints even, when we are small-time sellers of collectibles who could easily sell them off, is probably more fanciful than how we’ve come to own them.

Simply put, I envision duo review opportunities — or dueling reviews, if you will, in which hubby and I begin reading the same book at the same time and then publish our reviews (rather) simultaneously. Of course, this doesn’t explain those cases in which we have three or more copies of the same book…

I believe that would come down to a reluctance to upset universe by refusing the multiple gifts it has given; re-gifting or selling of gifts given by the book gods seems too tacky — I wouldn’t want to risk peeving them, resulting in them stopping pointing the way to books.

But hubby would likely put this all down to sheer laziness.

However, it should be noted that hubby also mocks my suggestion of book review duels. And he says I mistake “greed” for “serendipity.” Clearly he is wrong about all of this. *wink*

And he must know it too; because he’d never suggest we catalog all our books or become more logical & organized in our approach to buying books, like having lists. We can’t; we don’t know everything that’s out there, so how can we possibly know exactly what we’re looking for?

If multiple copies are the burden we and our sagging bookshelves must bear for our love of books, we accept it. Happily.

Direct Marketing Crank Response, 1917

An amazing entry I found in The Journal of American History, Volume XI, January-February-March, No. 1, (copyright, 1917, The National Historical Society) which speaks as much to direct marketing responses as it does to attitudes about media. The National Historical Society, seeking to increase membership and circulation of the journal, had been “prosecuting a very extensive postal card campaign.” One of the recipients of the direct marketing response cards sent in a reply:

Dear Sirs:

I respectfully decline to become a member of your society. I have absolutely no faith in American History. When the history of this great war will be written then you will have to take your information from the American newspapers, which have published more lies during the last 2 years than have been published since the beginning of the world. Yours truly,


The journal also notes that the correspondence was sent to the New York Tribune, where a representative of the newspaper tried interview Mr. Seitz by telephone. All Mr. Seitz would say in reply was, “You are all liars. I would not speak to you.”


Weekly Geek: Why Haven’t I Read This Yet?

I’m leaving early tomorrow morning for the weekend, and even though I had Friday’s post scheduled, when I spotted this week’s Weekly Geek question, “Why Haven’t I Read This Yet?”, it brought to mind at least one of the nagging questions raised by Gabriel Zaid in So Many Books that I just had to eek out a little time to answer it.

While Ruth at Weekly Geeks asked us to talk about a book (or books) we have been meaning to read (What is it? How long have you wanted to read it? And, why haven’t you read it yet?), my problem is far more ah, chronic than that.

In fact, I have a lovely stack of books here, desk-side, to review, read, and generally get lost in — and other stacks & sagging bookshelves for the same and other reasons.

I think sometimes my desire to own, the reality of time to read, and the love of books have given me a false sense of security when I buy books. It’s as if when I grab a book, clutch it to my bosom, and greedily pay for it, I loose all sense of reality… I cling to the fantasy of Someday.

Like all the boxes of ‘craft crap,’ I hold on to books for the great Someday when I will have time on my hands…

On one hand, this probably speaks quite a bit about of my precariously close to hoarding personality; on the other, I don’t think I’m that unique in my pursuits of piles of books.

* My eyes are bigger than my stomach — my appetite for reading greatly surpasses my time for reading.

* As a collector, writer & researcher, having my own library full of as of yet undiscovered information is a gift indeed. And, it may sound crazy, but sometimes I’m pretty sure I believe that just by owning books, by having them near, through some law of physics I will absorb all the knowledge, all the stories, all the lore & wisdom via osmosis.

* I believe in the serendipity of discovering books and the universe has blessed me with many finds; so I believe that universe will also serendipitously deliver the time to read the books (have the conversations) when I need to do so.

But mainly, I just don’t believe as Gabriel Zaid does, that “almost all books are obsolete from the moment they’re written, if not before.” I believe the opposite, actually, even though I mainly read non-fiction.

I find books from a time period often are the most accurate snapshots of the times in which they were written &/or published. Facts may be outdated, but passion & pursuit of the facts are never really outdated… Reading old books, out of print books, is to renew old conversations, illuminating so-called “current” conversations with corrections about assumptions, reminders of history lessons, and sometimes, a wisdom that’s too long been ignored or just plain forgotten. Sometimes, there’s just plain nostalgia. Maybe they are so quaint it’s funny. But saving old books, renewing previous conversations, remembering that this “now” we think is so important will also pass, is vital in my world view.

If it doesn’t matter to me how much time has passed between when the book is written & when the book is read, how can it matter how much time passes between when you bought a book & when you read it?

Basing your reading on “new only” or some inventory mantra of “first in first out” is an anathema to me. It conveys a materialistic aspect, diminishing books to temporality, objects limited to a short time of significance. As a collector, as a researcher, and as a reader I completely disagree.

And I have the stacks of as of yet unread books to prove it.

Cheap Thrills Thursday: Lessons In Literacy With Strawberry Shortcake

Let’s see… When this Kid Stuff Records book (copyright 1980) & record (copyright 1981) set of Strawberry Shortcake’s Day in the Country came out, I would have been 16 or so, which naturally explains why I never owned any Strawberry Shortcake stuff back in her heyday. Why the stuff seems to gravitate towards me in some sort of kitschy retro-grade, is a complete other issue — like Smurfs, for which I have no sense of nostalgia either, I do not yet know why.


Anywho, I grabbed this SEE the pictures HEAR the story READ the book set for about a buck, as I recall, making it another cheap thrill.

But, like most things I touch, it provokes a few questions…

Why were the pages merely black & white pictures? Were you also supposed to COLOR the illustrations?


More profoundly, I wonder what’s become of the progression of these kids’ books… When my eldest was little, the book & record sets had morphed to book & tape cassette sets, then to those (incredibly annoying) books with the computer chips that made noises (whenever you saw the icons in the text, you pressed the corresponding button for an audio clip). And now, the closest things I’ve seen are the video games which mainly use “pens” to read the words or stories (or, sometimes, have buttons much like those electronic books).

If the concept was based on the philosophy that being read to encourages children to become readers (and these book & audio sets were to assist parents who, for whatever reason, had no time to read to their children), then I think that’s been lost along the way. Lost with the interactivity — broken down into amusing “fun” and sold as “learning” yet.

As Gabriel Zaid (and translater Natasha Wimmer) so eloquently & concisely described in So Many Books, reading is a very complicated learned process involving the interpretation & integration of units of complex meaning into a cohesive whole. This is why listening to stories is so powerful — it is more natural, more easily intellectually and even emotionally digested. But once hooked on stories, a person wants to have the independence to select & enjoy on their own; they develop the love of reading.

So why add further fragmentation to the process? Why break reading down into even more chunks, such as distracting gimmicks of auditory bells & whistles? Why add other activities to it, such as pushing buttons, touching screens, using wands — removing one’s focus not only from the story as a whole but the page itself?


Whatjamacallit Wednesday: What’s Left On Thrift Store Shelves May Not Be Anything To Write Home About, But…

What sits on thrift store shelves is quite telling about “us” as a society. On a recent visit to a thrift store, I found proof that we just aren’t writing letters anymore — and if we are, we don’t care so much about how well they are written.

Discarded & donated, two copies of different “how to write letters” books: Standard Book Of Letter Writing & The Someone Cares Encyclopedia of Letter Writing.


Just Who Destroys Books & Libraries?

a-universal-history-of-the-destruction-of-books-from-ancient-sumer-to-modern-day-iraqAfter reading So Many Books: Reading & Publishing in an Age of Abundance, I was delighted to serendipitously discover a copy of A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq, by Fernando Baez (translated by Alfred MacAdam), staring me in the face from the “new arrivals” display at the public library.

I’ve always wondered just who would destroy books and libraries — and why. Here was my chance.

The book’s Introduction sums it up best:

It’s common error to attribute the destruction of books to ignorant men unaware of their hatred. After twelve years of study, I’ve concluded that the more cultured a nation or a person is, the more willing each is to eliminate books under the pressure of apocalyptic myths. In general, biblioclasts are well-educated people, cultured, sensitive, perfectionists, painstaking, with unusual intellectual gifts, depressive tendencies, incapable of tolerating criticism, egoists, mythomaniacs, members of the middle or upper classes, with minor traumas in their childhood or youth, with a tendency to belong to institutions that represent constituted power, charismatic, with religious and social hypersensitivity. To all that we would add a tendency to fantasy. In sum, we have to forget the stereotype of the savage book destroyer. Ignorant people are the most innocent.

You could take that at face value — but I preferred to continue reading how Baez came to that conclusion.

In the Note for the English Translation, Baez suggests the following:

I suggest not reading it beginning-to-end because, in its way, this book is an anthology of possible books. The reader, with no remorse, can start reading anywhere. So, dear reader, you are invited to embark on a circular, but, I hope, intellectually stimulating adventure.

Intrigued, I tried to randomly jump around — which is as unlikely as it sounds. Not only an oxymoron & unorthodox, but honestly, after six out-of-order chapters, I found myself desiring the book’s beginning to end layout which (mainly) mirrors a linear progression of time. Not only was this contextually refreshing, but, as a student of US public schools, I enjoy reinforcing what little knowledge of a time line of history I currently possess — & expanding new nuggets of information into such a stately progression was helpful too.

Along with the usual suspects in the destruction of books (natural enemies, such as fire, water, bugs, sunlight, etc.), there’s plenty of discussion, exploration, & historical documentation of those who applied the destruction on purpose. Book burning and book eating may result in the same thing as books on a sunken ship, but these actions usually had very different intents, so Baez covers the many ways to destroy books — accidental & by design. Censorship, on individual & public scales, may seem simple, but Baez exposes the stories behind the persons, passions, politics, prosecutions, and procedures.

Unexpected delights (in terms of chapters or topics — because the whole book is full of both the unexpected, the delightful, and the delightfully unexpected — even the losses are bittersweet for at least I’d heard of them now) included the chapter, Books Destroyed in Fiction.

This book not only affirmed my love of books & libraries, but reminded me how little I know… Including ignorance to relatively current events.

Like while I was very aware of the looting of museums in Iraq (especially after attending MPMA conferences), I never knew about the destruction, looting & losses libraries in Iraq suffered.

And how did I not know there was a fire at the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986 — in my lifetime? Not just any fire, but a deliberately set fire; a fire that must have been fueled with irony for it was both “the single worst library fire to take place in a nation where the most modern mechanisms for the protection of libraries exist,” and a fire started on April 28, 1986, just six days after the international Day of the Book.

Now that A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq has made me aware of just how ignorant I am, I’ve set Google Alerts for library news.

So Many Books, So Little Time

so-many-books-cover“So many books, so little time,” is the common lament of book readers and compulsive book buyers like myself who snap up paperbacks like this discarded library copy for 50 cents. That saying could have been the title of Gabriel Zaid’s book — but then, Zaid’s book covers more than just book readers, so he made the recognizable allusion & added a bit more to the title.

So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance by Gabriel Zaid (translated by Natasha Wimmer), covers the entire family of bookish folk: readers, buyers, collectors, writers, publishers, marketers, & retailers. The distinction of each may not seem like much to you; but having tried my hat at all of the above, I, and Zaid, can tell you there are some large differences (and when the book marketer & retailers, especially, are ignorant, they are very unsuccessful).

Zaid manages to pile on an enormous amount of facts (book publishing has been enriched by the very innovations that seem to threaten it), observations (many authors don’t write for their readers, but to pad their resumes) and philosophies (book are conversations; readers participate in the conversations and, in some cases, arrange the conversations) into a slim, 144 page, book.

But what’s truly amazing is that Wimmer’s translation manages to retain (or perhaps create? I’ve no way of assessing the original Spanish) a concise elegance that is fascinating & impressive.

Especially evident (as well as powerfully provocative) in chapter six, when the author lays out, step by step, how “learning to read is the integration of units of ever-more-complex meaning.” Ab-so-feakin’-lute-ly mind blowing to consider — while you are literally doing it!

Just how my copy of this book was deemed an unnecessary conversation by a library (the Lake Agassiz Regional Library, Moorhead, MN — not my Fargo Public Library!) seems more than ironic, but sad. Because I haven’t hugged a book to my chest like this in a long long time.

A true feast for bibliophiles craving both the intellectual & the literary, I could quote nearly endlessly from So Many Books — or at least 144 mass market pages worth. *wink* But out of respect for the author & translator, I’ll limit myself. These are my favorite passages — the juiciest ones that really make me think about myself — which come from the second chapter, titled An Embarrassment of Books:

Those who aspire to the status of cultured individuals visit bookstores with trepidation, overwhelmed by the immensity of all they have not read. They buy something that they’ve been told is good, make an unsuccessful attempt to read it, and when they have accumulated half a dozen unread books, feel so bad that they are afraid to buy more.

In contrast, the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure of their desire for more.

“Every private library is a reading plan,” Spanish philosopher Jose Gaos once wrote. So accurate is this observation that in order for it also to be ironic the reader must acknowledge a kind of general unspoken assumption: a book not read is a project uncompleted. Having unread books on display is like writing checks when you have no money in the bank — a way of deceiving your guests.

If that doesn’t make you smile — or at least grudgingly nod to yourself — then you book collectors will hate this next one:

A terrible solution is to keep books until you’ve accumulated a library of thousands of volumes, all the while telling yourself that you know you don’t have the time to read them but that you’ll be able to leave them to your children. This is an excuse that grows weaker and weaker as science makes even greater strides. Almost all books are obsolete from the moment they’re written, if not before. And marketing strategies engineer the planned obsolescence even of classic authors (with new and better critical editions) to eliminate the ruinous transmission of tastes from one generation to the next, which once upon a time.

The creation of an obsolete library for one’s children may only be justified in the way that the preservation of ruins is justified: in the name of archaeology.

Perhaps it at this point (page 16) that those who checked out So Many Books angrily stopped reading, returned the book to the library, and continued Zaid’s conversation in the most unflattering of ways, bad-mouthing the book into that useless space-taking-with-no-check-outs status that forced the librarian to discard it.

But me? I saw myself in those passages — and I loved it. Sure, it’s like those extra pounds I’ve got; not so pretty too look at for some, but baby, that’s all me! Before I can decide what — if anything — I should do about it, I have to first be aware of it. So Zaid held up a mirror and now I get to think about it… Why do I do that? (I buy it cheap, so that it’s at my fingertips — and there’s that osmosis thing.) Is he right? (I most vehemently do not agree all books become obsolete — some conversations ought never die & the past should be included in those conversations.) And then I get to converse with others about it. Awesome!

In case those passages really hurt your feeling (or before you rush off and buy yourself a copy of So Many Books), I’ll leave you with the following passage from the end of chapter one, To the Unrepentant Reader, which may put you & I & Zaid & all readers each in a better light:

The uniqueness of each reader, reflected in the particular nature of his personal library (his intellectual genome), flourishes in diversity. And the conversation continues, between the excesses of graphomania and the excesses of commerce, between the sprawl of chaos and the concentration of the market.

Cheap Thrills Thursday: Cheap Chick Lit

Books for sale, 25 cents a piece — 5 for a dollar?! Let me fill my arms, my husband’s arms, the kids’ arms… That is how I got The Dominant Blonde, by Alisa Kwitney, “The search for the perfect boyfriend and the perfect hair color.”

I don’t read a lot of fiction, and even less chick lit, so finding not only the time but the “place in mind” to do so was a bit challenging. But a summer sitting at a skateboard park trying not to flinch at everything your kids do, well, that helps you whittle down the reading stack. (That’s also a warning of the number & pace of forthcoming book reviews.) And sometimes your enabling husband needs to see you reading the cheap paperbacks you gobbled up. So I finally got to The Dominant Blonde.

dominant-blonde-coverLydia, our heroine in search of perfect companionship & hair color, has overcome more than a handful of bad boyfriends & finally seems to have a good, loyal guy: Abe. He “was the first man who had ever suggested that she go on a vacation with him and not broken up with her two days before the date on the nonrefundable tickets.”

Unfortunately, this is the one time Lydia ought to have wished for the breakup… Abe is the biggest loser yet.

A classic modern romance, with some typical plot lines, but it’s not completely predictable. Even the bad-guy-Abe has more than the usual one-dimensional character. Some of these characters should have books of their own. And Kwitney has written some good smutty sections too.

A decent “beach book” or a good way to pass the time sitting at skateboard park because the story moves along quickly, yet enjoyment is not thwarted by those frequent shouts of, “Hey, mom, look at me!”

Because Of This Book, I Want Carrie Fisher As A Friend

carriefisher_surrenderthepink Surrender The Pink (1991), by Carrie Fisher, was blasted by most reviewers; but I found it to be a delightful & charming quick read. Like Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge (the film anyway; I’ve not yet read the book) you wonder just how much is fiction and how much is Carrie Fisher — or how much the story’s relationship between Dinah and Rudy is really about Fisher and her ex-husband Paul Simon — but what keeps you reading is the wonderful fragmented thoughts and personality of the main character. Whoever she is.

Dinah may have a wild and witty interior dialogue, but it doesn’t stop there. Even if Dinah wishes she were more stoic, she doesn’t exactly keep her cards close to her chest and may even be considered to be a few cards shy of a full deck. (If Carrie is Dinah, or vice-versa, I encourage Carrie to contact me and be my friend!)

This all reminds me of the sorts of stories friends tell; good or bad, they are always entertaining. For example, Dinah shares the three times she lost her virginity. Each time is rather sad and lamentable, familiar in their probability, yet Dinah’s storytelling is the sort of context setting that engages a reader. It made me devour the book in one afternoon.

True, the ending of the book is a little rushed, and somethings are even more ambiguous than when they started, but hey babe, that’s life. Or at least my life.

PS. If you want to really know more about me, pay close attention to pages 143-150.

Get Ready For BBAW!

bbaw-button2009 The second annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week, celebrating the contribution and hard work of book bloggers who promote a culture of literacy & recognizing the best with the Second Annual BBAW Awards, will take place September 14-18.

Last year over 400 blogs came together to celebrate the art of book blogging during the first ever Book Blogger Appreciation Week & this year founder Amy Riley of My Friend Amy hopes for more: “We want everyone who blogs about books and reading to be a part of this week!”

If you blog about books, register here; if you’re a fan of books & blogs about books, nominate your favorite blogs & bloggers here. And I wouldn’t mind if you nominated & then voted for me and Kitsch Slapped *wink*

Popular Racism, 1857

In 1857 (a year before Darwin’s The Origin of Species), creationists Dr. Josiah C. Nott and George Gliddon published Indigenous Races of the Earth, which included illustrations comparing the skulls of “Greeks,” “Negroes,” and Chimpanzees to suggest black people ranked between white people and chimps. All copies of Indigenous Races of the Earth were pre-sold before they were even printed and the book then went on to become one of the best selling books of the time, including being published in many languages.


Cheap Thrills Thursday, Maybe.

kingsley-amis-i-like-it-hereI Like It Here, by Kingsley Amis, is the story of Garnet Bowen, a man forced to travel with his wife who wants a family holiday — with the additional incentive of two paid writing gigs. This might sound like a dream, but not for Bowen. He’s a miserable & reluctant man who can’t seem to find fun or hope in anything. Not in his married life; not in his career. Not even in the wry writer kind of way either.

He’s not a good guy. He’s not an insecure & inept guy you can root for. He’s a poor father, an idiot husband, and there’s not a lot of info to support any claims that he’s a good writer (that’s Bowen, not Amis, the author of the book — unless this is autobiographical?) He’s not a bad guy you can love to hate. He’s not even just a guy — an every man. He’s a whiny boy whose voice I hear in my ear like a petulant teenager, “But maaaaa!”

And I don’t think that some sort of British thing I couldn’t understand.

Nor is he the typical midlife crisis guy (like John Gosselin – another inept unlikeable man), because Bowen also doesn’t want to change. Boo-hoo! So what’s that leave? A whiny “Poor me, I’m a put-out male” story which has me hoping his wife will divorce him, take the kids, and get on with her own life.

She doesn’t.

So why did I grab this retro paperback bore?

I Like It Here (Kingsley Amis © 1958, Ballantine Books, First Printing, August, 1971) promised, “A rollicking trip with a not-so-innocent abroad” and features an intimate embrace on both the front & back covers — but if I was looking for smut (and I’m admitting nothing) I would be disappointed.

What little sexy stuff there is, is just a few paragraphs more than the salacious tease of an international kiss not bound by the same language barriers as speech. — but it is as awkward as trying to communicate in a language you don’t know.

This is not the sort of sexual tension most of us look for in our reading — or anywhere.

OK, so it’s not the smut-fest the publishers made it out to be. That’s not unusual — for books marketed then or today. “Sex sells.” But I kinda wish I had my dollar back. And I’m not exactly looking forward to the stack of other Kingsley Amis books I also snapped up that day.