Friday, December 28, 2007

A'frolicking we will go...

Another trip to the doctor under my belt and I FINALLY have some kick-ass antibiotics. I expect this sinus thing to be DONE soon. I hope. And you' won't believe what happened. WON'T BELIEVE. This is one of the many reasons why I love small towns. First, when I went to the doctor's office (Urgent insurance type of walk-in doctor's office) they didn't charge me for an office visit because it was a follow-up. But then, when I went to the small Mom and Pop drug store, THEY DIDN'T CHARGE ME FOR MY PRESCRIPTIONS!!!! They simply said the pharmacist was feeling benevolent and I should focus on getting better. HOW SWEET! They're totally gonna get a thank you card and a goody basket next week.

Tomorrow B. and I are off to Myrtle Beach until New Year's Day. We're gonna rent an oceanfront condo and probably spend New Year's Eve at Margaritaville. We went a couple of years ago, and it was the BEST time I've ever had on New Year's Eve. I'm so glad we get to go back for some rest and relaxation.

I hope you all have a wonderful time in my absence. Be safe and Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Christmas Recap

A merry day-after-Christmas to you all. I hope you're still lounging at home and haven't had to go back to work just yet, but if you have had to go back to work, I hope you're surfing the Internet instead of doing whatever it is you're supposed to be doing. The holidays are all about procrastination and tomfoolery, right?? Right!

Despite the fact that I've been on meds for a few days now, I'm still holed up in my pajamas. I am feeling better--less snot in my head--but now I've taken to coughing like an 80-year-old smoker and sound decidedly mannish. I was shocked and awed that the folks at Best Buy could discern my femininity over the phone this morning. Props to the Geek Squad.

I had a fantastic...or fantastique...Christmas. B. and I opened our gifts on Christmas eve, and yesterday I cooked a bunch of stuff (cheesy hash brown casserole, deviled eggs, sausage balls) and we went next door to his parents' house. We had a pretty good crowd and spent a sizeable portion of the day opening gifts, chatting and stuffing our faces. It was an excellent day.

And while gifts should certainly NOT be the total focal point of Christmas, who are we kidding! WE all want to report on our gifts. So without further ado, here's a pic (click for a larger version) of my haul and the breakdown below:

-I Love Lucy season 1 from B.
-Best of Molly Shannon DVD from B.
-Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix DVD from B.
-Beautimous painting that I've been lusting after for ages from B. (for my office)
-Speedy Suppers cookbook from my mom
-Fossil watch from Mom
-Laptop (technically not a Christmas gift...more a Christmas miracle) from Mom
-4 GB jump drive from B. (in sincere hopes that I'll back up my stuff more diligently now that my laptop has kicked the proverbial bucket)
-Journal from my cousins
-The Office magnets from Mom...for my office
-bookmarks (Mom)
-iTunes gift card (Rachel)
-A dog/puppy a day desk calendar
-A pink, flat, monthly desk calendar thingy (cousins)

Not pictured:
-$50 Barnes & Noble gift card
-Embroidered pillow cases (B's bro and sis-in-law)
-Money (B's parents)
-A fuzzy blanket (cousins)
-A cute angel ornament (Rachel)
-A magnet that says "I gave up jogging because my thighs rubbing together kept setting my pantyhose on fire." (Rachel)
-Trouser socks (Mom)


And when in the land of Half-Price book stores, one must take advantage! These are the books I managed to fit in my suitcase and carry-on to bring back to NC. There are a few left in Texas, although the titles elude me at the moment.

  • The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue (audio)
  • Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton (audio)
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See
  • The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly
  • The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunnant
  • In the Country of Last Things, by Paul Auster
  • Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster
  • Demonology: Short Stories, by Rick Moody
  • the latest edition of the Tin House literary journal

Ahh, books!

My strength is waning, so I'm going to wrap this post up, but keep an eye out for my upcoming "Favorite Books of 2007" post, and a recap of this month's reading.

Watching: Catch and Release

Monday, December 24, 2007

Back from the Brink...

Of death, that is.

Or maybe that's just a slight overreaction. But I have felt like death since I got back from Texas. I got back almostontime Thursday night, and Friday mid-day my health began to decline. Today I finally went to the doctor, and I have sinusitis (translation: snot monster!!!). Now I have good drugs and the holidays can continue.

B. and I will be opening presents tonight and doing the big family dinner thing tomorrow. I've lots of cooking to do!! Thank God I'm not contagious.

I don't have much to report given all the sleeping and nose blowing, but I promise to return posthaste with a report on the Christmas goodies and news of my reading (which has been SO GOOD lately).

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In Mourning...

It's official. My laptop is dead. I got word from the geeks at Best Buy that the problem was, in fact, my motherboard. It would cost $1,100 to replace it, and I could buy a couple of new laptops for that amount of money. SO, being the SAINTLY woman that she is, my mom is bequeathing her laptop to me. In truth, she hates working on a laptop and only uses it once a week to check her e-mail, so I'm going to buy her a brand-spankin'-new CPU to go with the 17" monitor she already has, and she'll be set with a desktop again.

The laptop I'm inheriting is a beautiful piece of machinery that I helped her pick out, so I'm absolutely forever indebted to her for her kindness in passing it along to me.

So, with that said, it's time to load SIMS 2 onto this bad boy. Priorities, right?

I engaged in a smashing bit of retail therapy yesterday (included books, make-up, and jewelry). I'll be back to report on that later.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Early Christmas and the 2008 TBR Challenge

I'm on my second day in Texas, and I'm having a great time so far! We had our big family gathering today, and much fun and overeating was had/done by all. I got some great gifts for my office (desk calendar, sticky note dispenser, The Office magnets, journal), and my mom gave me some things very close to my heart...bookmarks! And a Deal or No Deal interactive DVD game for B. and me (we're DOND nuts). I won't bore you with the whole gift list, but it was a great haul! And I can fit it all in my suitcase for the plane ride back!

Mizbooks has announced the 2008 TBR Reading Challenge, and I've been ruffling through my Goodreads and Shelfari accounts trying to decide what to put on my list. I had a miserable showing in 2007, reading only 2 of my 12 chosen titles (The Human Stain and The End of the Affair). While they were both fantastic books, I didn't even put a dent in the pile, so I'm hoping for a better turn-out in 2008.

Without further ado, here's my projected list:

First Tier Picks:

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (since I'm the last person on the planet who hasn't read it)
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
How to Read and Why, by Harold Bloom
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin
Oracle Night, by Paul Auster
Clown Girl, by Monica Drake
Fables #7: Arabian Nights (and Days), by Bill Willingham

Tier Two Picks (Altnernates):

Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama
The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman (can't bear for the series to be OVER!)
Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
The Position, by Meg Wolitzer

Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Leaving on a Jet Plane

It's that time again, folks. Time to climb aboard the big metal bird and make the pilgrimage to the land of my birth for fun and frivolity and lots of puppy kisses.

I'm leaving on Saturday morning for Dallas and returning on Thursday, the 20th. I will have Internet access at my mom's house, but my posting will surely be spottier than the usual pace.

Y'all have a good weekend! <--- See, the Texas in me is coming out already.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Photo Blitz

A few weeks ago, my good buddy TheOtherFeminist alerted me that guests were en route. As it turns out, the Little Alien Buggers made the long trek from Texas to visit with my poppets, Ace the Alien, Midnight, and Little Red. The buggers were very well prepared for their trip. If you click the pic below to enlarge it, you'll see that they made their long journey in a fetching trunk decorated with buckles and a silver longhorn. No Buggers worth their salt travel without a passport, travel diary and trusty boots and cowboy hats. Not to mention the campfire, sleeping bag, lantern, and marshmallows.

The Poppets approached the Buggers with care as they'd never seen anything quite like the one-eyed rodeo heroes. But, soon enough, they were all climbing trees together.

OK, so the Poppets are afraid of heights, but the buggers seemed to have no problem.

After their excursions in nature, the Poppets and Little Alien Buggers settled in for some light reading. Andi's thesis (standing) and her first academic publication, a review in the Fall issue of MELUS.

Those silly buggers. They even took a picture of Andi and B's Christmas tree from Andi's reading chair.
And finally, they accepted a package while Andi was at work. They took the liberty of opening the box and found some beautiful birthday presents from Heather! They all curled up with the beautiful knitted scarf that Heather made, and the breathtaking illustrated Sleeping Beauty.

The Buggers will be back on the road soon in an attempt to make it to their dude ranch before the Christmas holidays. But boy, they sure had fun with the Poppets, and the Poppets are still scratching their pointed little heads over how the Buggers get through life with one eye each. Hmmphf.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A plethora of reading...

Since my computer was out of the picture over the weekend, I read! Read read read. I wish I could say it was one of those chilly weekends where one finds it suitable to cuddle up in blanket with a cup of cocoa. Alas, such was not the case. It was in the mid-70s all weekend, and it's not suppose to cool down again until the weekend. By then I'll be on a plane to Texas and back to the hot December weather. Oh well, such is life.

Back to the books...

You may recall my extreme happiness in having two great books on the go: Special Topics in Calamity Physics and O Pioneers! I dove diligently back into O Pioneers! on Saturday and Sunday, and I polished it off early yesterday morning.

My first encounter with Willa Cather was in a Modernism class in graduate school. We read The Professor's House, one of her less revered novels, although a "less revered" Cather is far more respected than most authors ever hope to be. I bought O Pioneers! on a lark one day at Books-a-Million when I found an attractive, cheap copy.

What I love most about Cather's writing is the accessibility. It's very reader-friendly in much the same way as Hemingway. That is, while the writing is simple and straightforward, there is a ton going on under the surface.

O Pioneers! is the story of Alexandra Bergson and her immigrant family. The book opens when Alexandra is an adolescent and her father is a failing farmer. Alexandra grows and learns increasingly more about methods of farming and begins to take chances on the land. When her brothers wish to sell off the farm after their father's death, Alexandra urges them to hold onto the investment and weather the hard times. Eventually Alexandra triumphs and the farm becomes a booming success. However, Alexandra also finds that she's lost along the way...lost the opportunity to marry her friend and confidante, Carl Lunstrom.

Cather's masterpiece is split into five episodes, each detailing a different point in the Bergson's life. Aside from Alexandra's endeavors, Cather details the loves and losses of her younger brother, Emil, whose university education and interests set him apart from the majority of boys on the prairie.

My first reaction to this book was one of wonder. It sort of reminded me of the 6th grade when I read my first Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, Little House in the Big Woods. I remember marveling at Wilder's descriptions of frontier life. The preparation of food, crops and animals and other daily how-tos. Cather includes many related details, but her writing is by no means overdone or loaded down with extraneous detail.

Beyond the wonderful descriptions of frontier life, Cather paints a wonderfully strong, forthright, admirable character in Alexandra Bergson. Cather elevates her protagonist to epic proportions in her efforts to tame the land. It's rare, especially in this time period in literature, to run across so significant a female character.

As usual, Cather does not disappoint, and this one garnered a 10/10. Another favorite of the year, perhaps!

On the other side of things--the not so positive side--I read Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, by Chuck Palahniuk. Admittedly, I'm not an avid Palahniuk follower. I read an enjoyed one of his books--Lullaby--and I'm continually amused by the premises of his books. However, I haven't tripped over myself to get caught up on his work thus far. When I visited Pomegranate Books, my very favorite independent book store a few months ago, I was on an essay kick. I picked up Palahniuk's collection just for the fact that the essays would likely be off the wall and exceedingly interesting.

I was partially right.

The book is split into three parts...general essays he's written for magazines, portraits of celebrities, authors, etc., and finally a section of personal essays. The general essay section chronicled the wild and weird from the near-obscene Testical Festival near Missoula, Montana, to three ordinary men who repeatedly spend their time and money constructing bigger, stronger, grander residential castles across the U.S. While these essays were interesting in their own right, I found it much more worthwhile to take a stroll through Palahniuk's psyche. He related a number of anecdotes that led to his writing Fight Club, shared some tragic tidbits about his childhood, and ruminated on his friends, the ups and downs of writing celebrity, and various cultural assumptions.

Overall, I have to say the book was just "meh." I enjoyed parts of it very much, and others pushed me to skim. At the end of the day, a 6/10. But I read it in a day's time, and it wasn't a total waste of time. Devoted Palahniuk fans might enjoy it more than I did.

Dead as a Doornail

Hmmphf. The computer in the office is dead, and now my LAPTOP is dead! Actually, the laptop isn't dead, but there's something wrong with the power button or the power supply and it won't start. Therefore, it's winging its way to the Best Buy fixer people and won't be back until January. Perfect. Right when I need to be planning online classes.

Luckily, B. has a laptop I can use at home AND my mom has one in TX that I can use when I'm there for five days beginning Saturday.

*sigh* I feel so lost without MY stuff.

I did get a TON of reading done this weekend, though. In the absence of technology I turn to the written word.

I'll be back this afternoon with a rundown of my weekend reading. From B's computer.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Celebraaate Good Times (And Special Topics in Calamity Physics)

I'm home. ON A THURSDAY NIGHT!!! That's been unheard of this semester. For the last four months I've worked all day and FOUR nights a week, so I'm so glad to be at home, watching a movie (Beauty Shop), cooking dinner (turkeyburger steak, gravy, grilled mushrooms and onions) and bloggin' (hello!). And I'm in my pj' natural habitat.

Last night wasn't bad either. When I got home and got my grubby little paws back on Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I read like a maniac. By the time I got down to the final 14 pages I could barely keep my eyes open. Quite literally, they were fluttering like a butterfly on crack. In a valiant effort to stay awake and finish I did a few laps around the living room, took a shower, and sat in an uncomfortable position. And it was so very worth it.

Blue Van Meer is a very special teenager. The daughter of a political science professor, she's incredibly well read and in telling her story often annotates her thoughts. Many a critic has compared Marisha Pessl's debut novel with Vladimir Nabokov's work for the sheer mass of allusions and references to culture, literature, etc. Pessl herself ducks the comparisons by pointing out that many of the so called annotations are fictional references. One thing is for sure, though--Pessl has a nice grip on literary allusions because those are the real deal. Not to mention, Pessl outlines the chapters like a syllabus, with every chapter named after a famous work of literature. To further the literary allusions, each chapter takes on some theme associated with the corresponding novel. Fun, fun, fun!

Blue's tale opens with the lines, "Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her Life Story and expecting anyone to read it." And magnificent it is. Blue continues by recounting the night she discovered the body of her beloved teacher, Hannah Schneider, dangling from a tree by an orange extension cord. Everything mushrooms out in captivating detail and expertly timed bits.

The whirlwind begins to take shape when Blue and her father, Gareth Van Meer, settle in a western North Carolina mountain town for Blue's senior year of high school at the swanky St. Gallway school. Blue soon becomes acquainted with the enigmatic and doomed Hannah Schneider and the students who worship her. The Bluebloods--Charles, Nigel, Milton, Jade, and Leulah--are reluctant to accept Blue into their exclusive circle, but at Hannah's urging, they give in.

This book is really hard to describe, but the best I can do is a combination of coming-of-age story, academic novel, and mystery. Blue's entanglement with the Bluebloods is the catalyst for a swirl of twists and turns and heartbreaking surprises. However, the biggest difference in this novel and other mystery novels I've read--and from The Secret History, which it often reminded me of--is Blue's buoyant sense of humor. I often found myself laughing out loud at her sardonic wit and the intellectual banter between her and her father.

Pessl's writing is far more detailed than most authors today (the books weighs in at 514 pages), but that ends up part of the charm. I felt thoroughly engrossed in Blue's all its humor, mystery, and at times, uncomfortable atmosphere.

Some of my favorite passages:

"'To my daughter, ' Dad said grandly, clinking his wineglass on the rim of my Coke. A middle-aged woman at the table next to us with heavy hardware jewelry and a thickset husband (whom she seemed anxious to unload armfuls of shopping bags) beamed at us for the thirtieth time (Dad, a stirring example of Paternity: handsome, devoted, wearing tweed). 'May your studies continue to the end of your days," he said. 'May you walk a lighted path. May you fight for truth--your truth, not someone else's--and may you understand, above all things, that you are the most important concept, theory and philosophy I have ever known.'

The woman was practically blown off her seat by Dad's eloquence. I thought he was paraphrasing an Irish drinking toast, but later I did check Killing's Beyond Words (1999) and couldn't find it. It was Dad."


"'Somewhere in a woman's room there is always something, an object, a detail, that is her, wholly and unapologetically,' Dad said. 'With your mother, of course, it was the butterflies. Not only could you ascertain the extreme care she took in preserving and mounting them, how much they meant to her, but each one shed a tiny yet persistent light on the complex woman she was.'"

...and when observing a cheesy painting in a date's house, Blue says...

"Nimbly I stepped around the pair of green plastic gym shorts dead on the floor and leaned in to examine it. I guessed it probably was real, though it wasn't one of the 'light fests' where the artist 'screwed convention and took painting by the testicles,' as Penzance described Turner's hazy, almost completely abstract work (p. viii, Introduction). This painting was an oil, yet dark, depicting a tiny boat seemingly lost in a storm at sea, painted in hazy grays, browns and greens. There were slurpy waves, a wooden boat forceful as a matchbox, a moon, wan and small and a little bit of an acrophobe as it peered fretfully through the clouds."

There are a number of other passages I could quote, but maybe that can hold you over until you run out and grab this book up. The greatest indication I can give of my enjoyment of this book is the rating.

10/10!!! A perfect score. And that, my friends, is a rarity. I expect this gem will rule my list of Top 10 favorite books I read in 2007.

And isn't it completely unfair to the rest of us that Marisha Pessl (pictured) is gorgeous, smart, AND incredibly talented?? :)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Unsinkable Zeal Strikes Again

Around this time of year I always get antsy. I get tired of grading papers or writing papers or otherwise working my ass off, and I inevitably turn to books. Thus, the influx of book-related posts over the past few days. I find that shirking responsibility in favor of a book is a great deal of comfort for me, and as the holidays (and three weeks off) draw nearer, I get continually more excited about reading fun stuff.

This morning, on my drive to work, I was listening to the NPR: Books podcast, and I heard about no less than three books that I feel I must have. Good thing Mom sent that $50 B&N gift card for Christmas!

The book I found most intriguing of the three I fell vicariously in love with this morning is The Fires, by Alan Cheuse. It's two novellas about grief and death. Upbeat, eh? But listening to him answer questions about the book and read passages was so extremely involving. I want to run out and pick it up right now.

A short blurb from Publisher's Weekly:

In these two novellas, Cheuse (The Grandmothers' Club; Lost and Old Rivers; etc.) dissects the aftermath of two very different deaths: one, of an American businessman traveling in Russia; the other, a mother, jazz pianist and drug addict. In the first novella, The Fires a museum worker named Gina learns that her husband, Paul, died in a car accident while en route to Uzbekistan. Gina travels to Russia to ensure her husband gets cremated, per his wishes, and the foreign, surreal and familiar collide when Gina takes Paul's body to a Hindu ceremony to be cremated. The Exorcism applies much more overt dark humor to similar feelings in a substantially different character. An unnamed baby boomer discusses his sadness following the sudden death of his first wife, renowned jazz pianist Billie Benjamin, who fatally overdosed on heroin. Billie's death hits her daughter, Ceely, hard (she lashes out postcremation by torching a piano at her college), and the narrator's fond recollections of courting Billie are not received warmly by his new wife. Misery is in greater supply than comfort throughout, and Cheuse approaches his subjects from interesting angles, making these novellas of grief strangely compelling.

The second was a book about cleanliness. I enjoy offbeat non-fiction as much as the next girl--maybe more. I quite enjoyed Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (Mary Roach), Death's Acre (Dr. Bill Bass), and who can forget The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures (Louis Theroux). It's no surprise that The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History (Katherine Ashenburg) struck my fancy. What could be more fascinating and "eewww" inducing than a chronicle of hygiene habits through ages? INCLUDING the 17th century which Ashenburg describes as "the dirtiest time in human history."

Finally, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain is a non-fiction book about, you guessed it, music and the brain. Author and neurologist, Oliver Sacks, wrote the book that was eventually made into the film, Awakenings and heaven knows how many books he's written between then and now (I'm far too lazy to look it up). This morning was my first opportunity to hear Dr. Sacks speak, and it was so entertaining! The way he described the neurological reactions of the brain to music were so freakin' cool. I'll definitely be adding this one to the "quirky but intimidating" non-fiction stack, right alongside Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology (which is actually an amazing book if only I'd force myself to finish it).

So that's the latest "lust list" (that should be a category). It grows continually, so check back often for more adventures in Andi's ailing bank account.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The tragedy of an addicted book lover...

I left the house without my book this morning.

For those who aren't as addicted as me, this is the WORST thing that could possibly happen. During week nights I usually don't have much time to read. While I can usually sneak in an hour or so when the writing center is slow, between grading stacks of essays, and during my office hours, the nights are barren. However, last night was a special treat. It was "conference week" for my Monday night writing class; in other words they could come in if they were worried about their grades, but there are only four of them and they're all doing fine. No one showed up, so I got home around 6:45, ate some leftovers, and settled into my reading chair with Special Topics in Calamity Physics (has one of the coolest websites ever. Click and see.)

Many of you who have read this blog for a while, might've noticed a trend. I shy away from long books. The reason? Teaching fives classes spread between two different schools has taken its toll on my attention span. Undoubtedly I was THRILLED when Special Topics, in its 500-page glory, grabbed me by the nosehairs. I'm currently right around page 330 and flying through.

Well, until today that is.

So after I logged some serious reading time last night I was even MORE hooked on the book. I was getting to some really mysterious, creepy, thought-provoking, climactic bits, and I even took the book to bed with me to squeeeeze in a few more pages before I killed the lights.

When I placed the book on B's nightstand (closest to the door, easiest to notice in the morning) I tried to log a mental reminder to put the book in my bag this morning before leaving.

No go.

Even though I NOTICED the book while I was getting dressed...FIVE MINUTES before I left, I still didn't remember to put it in my bag. It's still there. Sitting. Alone. Waiting for me to get home tonight (at 10:00 when I won't want to read it). I would equate this great reading tragedy with one of those moments in the Julia Roberts movie, Something to Talk About, when she is too overrun with thoughts of her divorce to actually remember to put her child in the car with her. Her sister chases her and and reunites mother and daughter in a wonderfully comic moment. But this is not comedy, kids. Oh no, I have forgotten my book, and THAT is a shameful and regretful turn of events.

But my story does have something of a happy ending. Since I work in a college and spend three hours of my day in the mezzanine right over the library, I can check stuff out on whims. Great, wonderful, dashing whims. When I decided that Little Women (my emergency office book stash) was a slog today, I ran downstairs and checked out O Pioneers!, by Willa Cather, and I think I'm in love! I knocked off a good 80 pages in no time, and now that I'm done running copies of the final exam I'm giving tonight, I'm gonna dive back in. Special Topics has competition.

Excuse me, won't you?

Yep, book love. It's a fickle, fickle thing.

Monday, December 03, 2007

November Books in Review

November was not the best reading month. I chalk it up to my five classes ending, planning the next five and grading a boatload of essays. And fatigue. I'm ready for a break!

I only read two books this month. Albeit, they were good books, but two makes me twitch a little.

1. Pnin, by Vladimir Nabokov

2. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris (audio)

Linked above is my review of Pnin, and since I haven't gushed with love for David Sedaris lately, I'll tell you what I thought of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. BRILLIANT! Quite a few people have told me that they didn't care so much for Denim in comparison to some of his bigger titles like Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked. I was talking to S. the other night, and we always discuss what we're reading, so I brought up Denim. Her response, "OH! It's so funny! And tragic in spots." OH how right she was.

David Sedaris, for the uninitiated, writes for the most part about his family. He's from a big Greek family (several sisters, one brother). While they originally started out in New York, the family eventually moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, and that's where many of his essays take place. Sedaris is openly gay, and many of his essays discuss the woes of growing up "different." From his noticeably squeaky, effeminate voice, to the problem of playing strip poker at an all-male slumber party, his essays ooze hilarity and, to some extent, heartbreak. Much more so in Denim than his other collection I recently read, Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Aside from his experiences growing up in North Carolina, Sedaris also writes about his partner, Hugh, and their adventures living in Paris and Normandy. In fact, one of my favorite essays in this collection (the last one) involved David's time alone in their shared cottage in Normandy while Hugh was out of town. Sedaris details his tendency toward exaggeration and crazy imagination when he recalls thinking himself into the belief that zombies would invade the house. As a result, he stays up all night when Hugh is out of town, and on this particular evening he inadvertently injures a mouse in a trap, decides to drown it in a bucket on his front porch to "put it out of its misery," and encounters a van-load of lost tourists at 3am as he's drowning the mouse.

No matter how outlandish and hilarious the situation, like any fine essayist, Sedaris always manages to pinpoint the basic human element that makes it all very relatable. Don't let anyone tell you this is a lesser collection.

Now, for the books that have walked into my house this month:

  • A pristine new copy of Great Expectations for "My Year of Reading Dangerously"

  • Portnoy's Complaint, by Philip Roth, a find at Bookmooch

  • Fables: Wolves, by Bill Willingham for the 2008 Graphic Novels Challenge (see sidebar)

And while I feel certain a few books have flown in under the radar, those are the ones that spring immediately to mind. I received a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card from my mom as an early Christmas gift, so there will certainly be more books winging their way to me any time now.

And in case you hadn't noticed, there's a brand new issue of Estella's Revenge online! It's brief this month, but Heather and I decided to put the whips away and give the writers a break for the holidays. OK, OK, she and I needed the break, but I feel certain the writers were OK with it too.

Performing Femininity

Definitions of "femininity"...

  • womanly: befitting or characteristic of a woman especially a mature woman; "womanly virtues of gentleness and compassion"
  • a gender that refers chiefly (but not exclusively) to females or to objects classified as female
  • the submissive character type; biological femininity refers to the female gender; psychological femininity refers to the submissive character type; also used as a noun to refer to a feminine individual. ...

Femininity is a wide and varied proposition. Women perform femininity differently throughout the world, and much closer to home, throughout the United States. "Perform" is a choice word in literary study to characterize the way people "put on" various traits. If we're being analytical, gender is performed. It is not set in stone. What is "feminine" or "masculine" varies wildly from one person to another from the divas and drama queens to the tomboys and drag queens.

What is traditionally "feminine" or "lady-like" has always been a bone of contention for me at various points in my life. For instance, my grandmother used to tell me--when I still wore a YOUNG child--to act lady-like. All the more reason to wear shorts under my dress so I could play "Thundercats" with my herd of male friends at recess.

As a teen my mom was always telling me that it was unlady-like to call boys. Instead I would wait until she went to bed and call my friend Haskel and talk for hours. She got over it later when I became connected at the hip to my best friend, K. Although, I suspect she thought he was a bit more feminine than me, and maybe that's why she didn't oppose my calling him.

Traditional femininity has often been associated with a passive approach to life. While readers might assume this expectation of passivity is associated with a nebulous time called "back then" recent events make me wonder.

Before I speak about my own life, I'll use the old go-to example. Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and her decision to say of President George W. Bush, "We're ashamed the President is from Texas." The result was a firestorm of radio banning, CD burning and death threats. And while you all know that it irked me, the statement and the majority of the fallout aren't my concerns today. Amidst the shouting there was a theme to be heard. Many people called the Chicks "Saddam's Angels," the "Dixie Sluts" and other derogatory names aimed chiefly at their gender and at the heart of it, their femininity. Obviously because they spoke an unpopular opinion they're whores, right?

It seems to me that this easy type of cutdown, this obvious and paltry mode of attack, has been used to silence women for a very long time.

Now I'm gonna bare a little more soul than I usually do...

You may remember my post some time ago recounting in vague detail the time I was coerced into sexual acts by an older man when I was 19. He didn't rape me, thank God, but he did resort to some pretty vile vocalizations to belittle and berate me and get me to do what he wanted. Namely, he called me a tease, among other things. While I hate to think about it, I've been on the receiving end of a few "whore" comments pointed at me by angry exes and whatnot. Why? Because it's easy and it makes women feel shitty.

More than a few times I've been silenced. Made to feel like having a strong opinion was wrong; somehow unfeminine, less than lady-like, and just plain crude. Even when I was speaking about something important, political, universal, the silencing happened. Or, as I often think of it, I was "put in my place." Apparently it doesn't matter how many degrees one receives, accolades they acquire or respect they have, women especially are often silenced.

I've talked to my female friends about this particular issue over the years, and while we may ultimately blame this type of silencing on Napoleon complexes or just plain insecurity, it all amounts to the same thing. Women should just shut the hell up.

Therein lies the difficulty for me. Femininity, when I was growing up (and even moreso now, as an adult), had less to do with high heels and nail polish, and much more to do with how a woman survives in this world with her self-respect in tact. I learned from the best! I inherited my femininity from a single mom with a kickass job who took care of everything. And she has strong opinions and speaks about them. She is strong, and she is my backbone to this day when I have trouble holding myself up.

I found out a troubling fact this weekend: that a family member hurt her, and she's been silent. That brought a lot of things rushing to the surface for me. Rage, disbelief, confusion. It also makes me re-evaluate the times I've been silent. The times I've bitten my tongue instead of speaking out about something that I had a personal stake in. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind I guess I've learned that a steadfast woman shouldn't lose control. Shouldn't shatter the nice facade. Shouldn't be crazy with rage or passion. Although, intellectually I say that's all bullshit.

I am ultimately the only person I have to answer to. Not society, not family, not significant others. So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm going to make a more concerted effort to say what I need to say, what I want to say, and do what's best for me. Even if it hurts for a while. Femininity be damned.

I wonder how many women, every day, keep their mouths shut. What if we all spoke up?

I'm going home

Gonna load my shotgun

Wait by the door and light a cigarette

He wants a fight, well now he's got one

And he ain't seen me crazy yet

Slapped my face and he shook me like a rag doll

Don't that sound like a real man

I'm gonna show him what little girls are made of

Gunpowder and lead

-- Miranda Lambert, "Gunpowder and Lead"

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