Thursday, January 29, 2009

Essay Reading Challenge: Three More!

My students (and I, as a result) read a ton of essays for class. My beginning writing students spend their time reading about how to write and dissecting the writing of others, foraging for good examples. Right now they're working on a unit over narration and description, and they've read several essays that are especially good examples of narration and description.

In her essay, "My Mother Never Worked," Bonnie Smith-Yackel has a conversation with Social Security in an effort to collect a death benefit as her mother has just passed. The essay is masterfully constructed. In the beginning she has a brief conversation with the Social Security worker about her mother and the worker puts Smith-Yackel on hold to pull up her file. The ensuing essay, which takes place while she's on hold, paints a portrait of an incredibly hard working woman. Her mother and father farmed most of their lives spending long hours in sweltering heat, struggling through drought, births, deaths, and plenty of life's other curveballs. Her mother would eventually be paralyzed in a car accident, but her schedule never slowed--she made quilts for her children and grandchildren, baked fresh bread, did her housekeeping, all from her wheelchair. Sadly, the conclusion of the essay is the other end of the Social Security conversation, wherein the worker informs Smith-Yackel that her mother's death will not result in a payment because, "...your mother never worked."

It's a heartbreaking essay. A slap in the face after the deluge of details that make it quite clear that Smith-Yackel's mother worked harder than most readers ever will (myself most definitely included). This essay made for a great class discussion not only about the beauty of a finely constructed essay and the unavoidable irony, but also about the role of stay-at-home parents and the government's view of them as less than "workers."

This essay was published in Women: A Journal of Liberation as well as Ms. magazine.

The second essay they've feasted on (which we'll discuss today) is E.B. White's "Once More to the Lake." It was originally published in Harper's magazine, and it is a perfect essay to examine to learn how to do description right.

White writes about returning to his childhood vacation spot with his son. In the beginning he imagines himself a child again, fishing, exploring, and enjoying the outdoors. As the essay progresses he begins to see himself as his father. He catches himself saying and doing things that his father would've done. By the end of the essay (and it's only barely six pages long) White is grappling with his mortality. As he watches his son put on his swim trunks which have been sitting out in the rain all day, he thinks:

I watched him, his hard little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up around his vitals the small, soggy, icy garment. As he buckled the swollen belt suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.

All these male writers and their genitals (watch the Google hits flow in now). This conclusion reminds me of another essay I read years ago, John Updike's "The Disposable Rocket." While I wasn't a fan of the essay (and RIP, John Updike) it was effective, just as this final image in White's essay is effective in letting us know how scared he is of aging. I'm looking forward to what my students have to say about this essay and how many of them blush when we talk about it.

Today we will also discuss Suzanne Berne's "Ground Zero," which appeared as an op-ed piece in the New York Times in April 2002. Raised in Virginia and Washington D.C., Berne's first trip to NYC's financial district is to see Ground Zero. She describes the scene, standing alongside the fence, the swirl of people--all nationalities and ethnicities--there to pay their respects. While Berne is reverent, there's also the distinct feeling that she is uncomfortable. Just another tourist who wants to take on the pain of the big event. She eventually excuses herself to buy a ticket to an afternoon viewing on a platform overlooking the "pit." Since she has several hours to wait, she visits a nearby deli that boasts a view of the site. As she sits, eating a sandwich, she sees an honor guard escorting remains up a ramp and into the back of an ambulance. It's the definitive moment in the essay when Berne seems to feel both humbled and ashamed as she's finally gotten her "ticket to the disaster."

I wonder what my students will say about this one. If they'll see the subtle nuance and the irony in being so drawn to a place, so full of respect, but also like a gawker addicted to tragedy and destruction. It's a fine line to walk, and it's a great piece of writing on Berne's part.

Incidentally, all of these essays are collected in our textbook, Patterns for College Writing. It's a fantastic book, and I hope the college hangs onto it for a very long time. The essays are wonderful and the teaching tools are plentiful. Heavenly!

Don't forget to visit Books and Movies for more on the Essay Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shot #1: "L. Debard and Aliette" by Lauren Groff

I can resist no longer!!! I love shots (alcoholic and otherwise), so the 100 Shots of Short reading challenge--hosted by RobAroundBooks--is right up my alley. This perpetual challenge urges readers to read 100 short stories in their own sweet time. No pressure, no due dates, just a whole bunch of short story love.

While I was known to resist short stories in my younger days because they felt "unfinished," (or maybe because I was forced to read them for school) in the last few years they have grown close to my heart. Because I consistently teach Literature-Based Research courses at the college, I'm always revisiting my favorite short stories, discovering new ones, and I have a significant pile of great short story collections on my stacks. Oddly, whenever I revisit those old faves for teaching purposes, I rarely discuss them here. Shame! Must put an end to that nasty exclusion.

I'm smack dab in the middle of Lauren Groff's collection, Delicate Edible Birds, so it's only fair that I start with my favorite story from the collection thus far. "L. Debard and Aliette" is the title, and it's a stunning story. What I'm finding so lovely about Groff's collection is that she rarely takes the easy way out. She takes her characters to places the reader doesn't expect--sometimes uncomfortably so--but the stories are always poetic and feel fully realized and "finished."

Most of the female protagonists in Groff's stories are delicate (edible birds)...emotionally, physically, intellectually or all of the above. In the case of 16 year old Aliette Huber, a rich man's daughter with legs damaged by what I suspect is polio, she is delicate physically, though that's about the extent of her weakness. Her father hires former world-class swimmer and struggling poet, L. Debard, to give his daughter swimming lessons. Because Aliette is largely bound to her bed by the weakness and pain in her legs she spends hours a day lost in books, and she has a special fondness for poetry. She appreciates L. Debard's work, has read his first book (largely ignored by the literary world) and can recite the poems after only one reading.
Though her father and nurse treat her like a young child, Aliette is mischievous and savvy. She soon begins to seduce L. Debard during their daily lessons. While the easy way out would've been to have Aliette's father or nurse discover the affair and squelch it with great emotional turmoil for the couple, Groff drags the telling out a great deal more. I won't reveal the intricate details, but as the strength in Aliette's legs increases, so does the urgency and depth of Aliette and L.'s relationship. They actually manage to foster a full-blown relationship, which I never expected when I started reading the story. While the story is ultimately tragic in its own way, it's wonderfully written and full of surprises.
Part of what makes this story so sparkly and memorable is the setting. L. and Aliette live through the flu epidemic of 1918. Groff manages to create a great contrast between the richness and opulence of the story's opening with the dark days of the flu epidemic. L. and Aliette begin their swimming lessons in the Amsterdam Hotel natatorium, which Groff describes this way:
It is a lovely pool of green tile, gold-leaf tendrils growing down the sides and a bold heliotrope of yellow tile covering the bottom. The walls and ceiling are sky blue. They cannot use it during guest hours and must swim either in the early morning or at night.

Both, insists L., hating to take so much money from Mr. Huber for so little work. He comes early for the first lesson, marveling at the beautiful warmth and crystal water. He leaps from the sauna to the pool, laughing to himself. His moustache wilts in the heat.

However, as the flu epidemic moves into the city the tone of the story grows far darker.

The plague hits New York like a tight fist. Trains rolling into the boroughs stop in their tracks when engineers die at the controls. After 851 New Yorkers die in one day, a man is attacked for spitting on the streets.

Mr. Huber sends his six servants away, and they are forbidden to return until the end of the plague. Three out of them won't return at all. Mr. Huber, Aliette, Rosalind, and L. remain. They seal the windows, and Mr. Huber uses his new telephone to order the groceries. They buy their food in cans, which they boil before opening, and their mail is baked piping hot in the oven before they read it.

I love Groff's descriptions which are often as poetic and surprising as her plots. She can make the exceptionally ugly parts of tragedy and human nature bearable and interesting with her words.
I should also mention that "L. Debard and Aliette" is a reimaged telling of Abelard and Heloise. I have absolutely no familiarity with the story so those references are lost on me, but I think I'll be doing a bit of Googling to get caught up!
If you pick up any short story collections this year, Delicate Edible Birds is my first recommendation. Watch for reviews of more stories coming soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Score!!! Book Awards Everywhere!

I'm sure you've already heard, but just in case you haven't, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book won the Newbery Medal!!! Yay yay yayyyy! You might remember that I freakin' loved it and wrote a very gushy review for Bibliobuffet. If you weren't motivated enough to read it already, let this be the gush that pushes you over the edge! Click here to read Neil's delighted reaction to his win.

When I heard that Susan Marie Swanson's The House in the Night, illustrated by Beth Krommes, won the Caldecott Medal, I hurried right out to my library and picked it up. Click on either of the images from the book to enlarge--you won't be sorry.

The House in the Night is a subtle little book written as a cumulative poem--like the structure of "This is the House That Jack Built." It takes the reader through a house at night--a little girl's room, into a book, we get a bit of a bird's song, a look at the moon, etc. The illustrations are certainly the centerpiece. Beth Krommes' wood engravings are powerful, dramatic, and just really stunning. I couldn't stop petting the pages as I was reading through. Here's another one...

Visit Beth Krommes website for more of her gorgeous illustrations.

In other bookish news, I'm thoroughly involved in Lauren Groff's book of short stories, Delicate Edible Birds, and I have a slew of other great tomes screaming at me from the stacks. I think the short stories are good for my waning attention span. Can't wait to dive back in (if I can force myself off the computer).

Happy Monday!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Sunday Salon - Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson

Good Sunday, everyone! I'm happy to report that I've finally finished another book. 2009 is off to a slow start, but at least the quality has been good so far even if my numbers are dreadful.

This semester I'm taking a course for my library degree called History of Youth Services. The class focuses largely on issues of history and ethnography, and less than a week in I'm already having a great time. Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson, is a required read for the course, and I could not be happier about it! I've long been aware of Paterson's better known books, Jacob Have I Loved and Bridge to Terabithia. Unfortunately, I've never taken the plunge and picked them up, though after Lyddie, I'm sure I will.

In 1843, Lydia Worthen is essentially the mother to her family: her mentally unstable mother, her hardworking brother, and her younger sisters. They owe debts on their farm, and it seems as if their father will never return. As a result, Lyddie's mother hires her out as a housemaid and her brother Charles goes to a local miller. Before too long, Lyddie finds herself in a precarious situation--fired from her position as housemaid and off to Lowell, Massachusetts to work long hours in a dirty, dangerous textile factory. While the wages and her endless work ethic allow her to save money toward the farm debt, the danger of disease, injury, exhaustion, and greed hover around every corner. The bright spot in all of the dark are Lyddie's new friends, her newfound ability to read, and her drive to provide for her family and eventually return to them.

It's been a really long time since I've read any historical fiction, especially historical fiction for children, and I was delighted to visit this particular time period, as I found the setting, the characters, and information about the mill conditions and rising movement for fair work and wages really interesting and involving. Lyddie is a great character--strong, hard-headed, intelligent, and resourceful. She's not without her faults, certainly, and that makes her all the more memorable. There are more than a few times when all the money she's saving goes to her head and she loses sight of her ultimate purpose.

Paterson's writing is elegant. Truly beautiful. One of my favorite passages comes shortly after Lyddie's first days in the Lowell mills. One of her roommates reads Oliver Twist aloud to her, and she becomes completely involved in the tale.

Tonight after supper, Betsy would read to her again. She was, of course, afraid for Oliver, who was all mixed up in her mind with Charlie. But there was a delicious anticipation, like molded sugar on her tongue. She had to know what would happen to him, how his story would unfold. [...] She didn't quite know how to explain to anyone, that is wasn't so much that she had gotten used to the mill, but she had found a way to escape its grasp. The pasted sheets of poetry or Scripture in the window frames, the geraniums on the sill, those must be some other girl's way, she decided. But hers was a story.
As a result of her new obsession, she begins to copy passages out of the book and paste them to her loom to study as she works through the long hours in the mill. Books keep her company and allow her to escape the drudgery of her everyday life.
Lyddie was a sweeping kind of story that kept me feeling a little anxious and on edge the whole time I was reading it, and it's been far too long since I've felt that way about a book! I have a feeling another one of Paterson's novels might fall into my library bag the next time I go.
What historical children's fiction have you read that you loved? It never hurts to have another couple (hundred) recommendations for the wishlist!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pygmy Marmoset, anyone?

No reading for me until tonight! I'll be off to the Dallas World Aquarium soon for an afternoon of fun and frivolity.

To your left is a picture of my very favorite animal at the DWA, a pygmy marmoset. I hope I remember to bring the wire cutters, because if I can sneak one of these little cuties into my pocket, my life will be complete.

Happy Friday everyone, and a HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my girl, Heather from A High and Hidden Place!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Whoa!!! I've had books bursting out of my mailbox for the last several days. Quite literally. Yesterday there were two envelopes shoved into the box, and there was a third rubber banded to the flag on the side. These are all children's or young adult offerings:

Rumors and Envy (Luxe Novels), by Anna Godbersen
After the Train, by Gloria Whelan (hardcover to go with my ARC)
Waggit Again, by Peter Howe
The Deep, by Helen Dunmore
Ottoline Goes to School, by Chris Riddell
Herbert's Wormhole, by Peter Nelson and Rohitash Rao
The Dragons of Ordinary Farm, by Tad Williams and Deborah Beale
The Super Sluggers, by Kevin Markey
Snow in Love, by Claire Ray
Faketastic, by Alexa Young
She's So Money, by Cherry Cheva
Wonderous Strange, by Lesley Livingston

Picture Books:

How to Talk to Girls, by Alec Greven
The Berenstain Bears' Valentine Party, by Jan and Mike Berenstain
Queen of Hearts, by Mary Engelbreit
Do You Love Me, by Joost Elffers
Love, Splat, by Rob Scotton

And from the library, because what book whore can resist?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson (for my graduate class this semester)

and I rechecked:

The World Without Us
The Post-American World

There really just aren't enough hours in the day, folks. A chunk of the children's/YA titles will go to Estella's Revenge reviewers, but I'll keep a few out for myself (the picture books in case I can use them in a Children's Lit survey). It's like Christmas all over again. Well, but better! Since I didn't get any books for Christmas!!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Literature in a Hurry

If you're in a bind, a crunch, a reading slump, why not try comics or graphic novels? They're literature in a hurry, but not to be undervalued. Read my discussion of graphic novels, particularly Maus and American Born Chinese, in the latest installment of "The Finicky Reader."

Happy Inauguration Day!!!

This Time cover is well known by now, and it was quite prophetic as it turns out. Today is inauguration day and a joyful day for so many. For those of us who supported Barack Obama from the grassroots level on up, for those of us who will celebrate our first African American president, for those who simply look forward to a change of power in Washington, today is a day to celebrate. To celebrate diversity, history, new directions.
While it's unfair and unrealistic to expect Obama to unravel all of our massive problems in a flash, for me it is comforting to know that a politician I believe in will be taking the helm. For eight long years I've waited for whomever might step in to take over from the Bush administration, and I could not be more pleased that America came together under a common purpose and a common leadership and common inspiration and put the majority of their votes behind Obama.
Today is an exciting day, a hopeful day, a joyful day. An historic day for every one of us no matter what party, race, religion, or location. Happy Inauguration Day!!!

Monday, January 19, 2009

He's Telling Me How to Read?

I'm sick, but I'm also bored. Thus, I'm posting. Now that I seem to have gotten over my two and a half week sinus infection, there's a stomach flu going around. Nice.

On a happier note, I've begun work on the 2009 Essay Reading Challenge. I was without the attention span to read anything lengthy the other day, so I picked up Harold Bloom's How to Read and Why.

I take issue with Harold Bloom on most things, but this book is designed to get the general public excited about reading. While I don't always agree with Bloom's contentions about what constitutes "good reading" and I think he's a bit of a pompous ass for trying to tell anyone what constitutes "goodness," I did enjoy some of what he had to say.

The book is broken down into sections: Short Stories, Poems, Novels (pt. 1), Plays, and Novels (pt. 2). Each section contains short essays on specific works and authors that Bloom favors. Of the essays I've read thus far, my favorite is on Flannery O'Connor. My students are reading some of her work this semester, and I've always adored her. Bloom writes:

...the people who throng O'Connor's marvelous stories are the damned, a category in which Flannery O'Connor cheerfully included most of her readers. I think that the best way to read her stories is to begin by acknowledging that one is among her damned, and then go on from there to enjoy her grotesque and unforgettable art of telling.
In particular, Bloom discusses two of my favorite O'Connor stories, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and "Good Country People." I read both of them as a teen for a UIL Literary Criticism competition for school, and I was totally taken aback by O'Connor's...weirdness. There's no other way to put it, really. It was one of the first times, along with William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," that I realized classic literature could be creepy, shocking, and endlessly involving.

Props to Bloom for loving O'Connor. We definitely have that in common. As for his essays--meh. They're fun, and they're nice to read, and they're quick, but I actually find this essay on O'Connor, and most of the other essays in the book, less than satisfying. I feel sure if I were to read one of Bloom's longer works I would be more interested, but these essays are short for a reason: they are written for a general audience that may not necessarily be readers.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (illustrated by Graham Rawle)

When I saw this new version of The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Graham Rawle, I knew I had to give it a go. The cover is so deliciously warped, I just couldn't help myself. You guessed it, Dorothy looks like a dime store doll, and I never really figured out why Toto is on a dolly, but it's cute. It's weird. It matches up nicely with Baum's twisted vision. Likewise, the other main characters are figurines that look very crafty and handmade. The Lion was my favorite, as always.

Honestly, I've never been a fan of the book. Oz is one of those rare cases wherein the movie far exceeds the book in terms of pop culture status and charm, but it's still kind of a trippy ride to read it over on occasion. While we're probably all accustomed to images from the film or cutesy comic illustrations, Rawle--a writer and collage artist--puts a new face on the tale with a mixture of dolls, figurines, found objects, drawings, and photographs all smashed together to breathe life into the beloved Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. Not to mention Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and the various witches, Munchkins, Winkies, and others. Those flying monkeys were a hoot!

One of Rawle's tendencies is to use photographs of real people's heads and put them atop the bodies of dolls or figurines. It creates a weird sense of unreality, and it's almost disturbing; perfect for such a wacky tale of fantasy and wonder. While the illustrations were great and added a nice effect to the story, I can't say they're terribly daring. That is, they didn't add any extra meaning to the story for me. They were generally pretty straightforward, literal translations of the written words. Given such a unique style, I wanted Rawle to take more chances in interpreting the story through images. I wanted the images to add an extra layer of meaning to the written text. As it is, they're just pretty.

If you're a Wizard of Oz lover, this edition is a must-have. In addition to the sweeping color illustrations, the actual layout of the book is gorgeous, and it's a hefty, quality hardcover. If you're a casual Oz lover, grab it from the library.

I'll count this book as my first for the Year of Reading Dangerously. Rawle definitely takes some nice chances with his illustrations, even if they're not always successful.

New Books!

I went to Dallas with my mom and sold a BUNCH of books to Half-Price Books and picked up a few clearance lovelies:

  • A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon
  • Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsid Hamin
  • The Accidental, by Ali Smith

Also picked up a couple of Foo Fighters CDs that I lost or didn't own to start with. I love me some Dave Grohl ya know!

Coming just around the corner: review of a new illustrated Wizard of Oz. It's crazy!

Monday, January 12, 2009

On Corn Soup and The Hour I First Believed

First, I have to assure you that I get no money, no freebies, no nothin' (!) for this endorsement, but I freakin' LOVE V8's Southwestern Corn soup. I haven't felt much like eating since I got sick a few weeks ago (on the mend, finished off antibiotics today) so I stocked up on soup. Easy, quick, tasty, reheatable. I picked the Southwestern Corn up on a lark, and when I heated its golden goodness today, I thought I might have to be restrained to keep from eating the whole carton. Smoky, spicy, smooth, yummy. Holy crap. Go buy some. Do it now!

In reading news, I'm still working my way through The Hour I First Believed, by Wally Lamb. I haven't yet finished my second book of the year, and I feel like SUCH A SLACKER. This is the problem with me and long books--I feel like my biological clock might rust and die before I finish them. I'm about 233 pages into the mammoth, and I really like it, though "like" seems an ill-chosen word when so many horrible things happen to the characters. I've just finished the part where Caelum Quirk's (main character's) wife Maureen experiences the 1999 Columbine High School shootings from her hiding place inside a cabinet. The following chapter is nothing but excerpts from the tapes and journals of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Disturbing to say the least. Effective, gripping, "turn away from the car accident" interesting. Do I feel manipulated? Oh yeah. Do I care? Not yet!

While the details are disturbing, they also extremely compelling. The characters--both Maureen who was there for the shooting and Caelum who was stuck hundreds of miles away--must deal with the fallout. The entire story is framed as something much larger than that one tragedy...I'm only 233 pages of the 700-some-odd in! It sort of reminds me of Paul Auster's writerly tricks in dealing with chance and the way tiny events can send out huge ripples in individual lives. In Lamb's writing, huge events send out almost insurmountable ripples. I'm looking forward to finding out how the couple can deal with all of it.

More to come as I work my way through this one. I expect I'll be in the sunroom reading feverishly as soon as I finish these last two syllabi for tomorrow. Nothing like waiting 'til the last minute!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Weekly Geeks - This One Goes Out to the Ones I Lurv

It's back!! Thanks to the wonderful folks who have taken the wheel to keep Dewey's Weekly Geeks project going. This week's prompt:

In the spirit of the amazing community building that Dewey was so good at, tell us about your favorite blogs, the ones you have bookmarked or subscribe to in your Google Reader, that you visit on a regular basis. Tell us what it is about these blogs that you love, that inspire or educate you or make you laugh. Be sure to link to them so we can find them too.
I subscribe to hundreds of blogs, and obviously every one of them is special for some reason. For the most part the blogs I subscribe to are interesting, vivid and vivaciously written, snarky, thoughtful, and just plain WONDERFUL. I'm going to do the old "close my eyes and click" and report on which ones come up:
Amanda from The Life and Times of a "New" New Yorker is a fellow student in my Library Science grad program. She happened to find me here in blogland, and I soon started following her writings as well. Not only does she have great taste in books, I also love reading about her adventures in NYC.
MizBooks of Should Be Reading has been my book friend for years! We first met in the Yahoo! book discussion groups, and I've been following her blog for a long time now. She's a prolific reader, a prolific blogger, and a fantastic community builder. If you haven't already...go see her!
Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-A-Holic is another long-time bloggy fave. She's incredibly busy with her work and her family, but she still manages to read and blog like a pro!! I get tons of great recs from Miss Stephanie. My TBR groans whenever I visit her site.
Melanie of The Indextrious Reader is a librarian, a culture lover, and a talented writer. Just read her blog for a bit! I'm constantly learning something from her blog and getting book recommendations that I might not have known about otherwise. She's a very adventurous and varied reader.
Courtney from Everything in Between astounds me! She's got a great job, a cool hubby, a new house, a ridiculously full life, and she still manages to read, work seriously on her writing, spend time with friends, and come up with blog posts that read like professional publications. And she's funny! And cute! And has great taste in food and stuff! I want to be like Courtney. *sigh*
These FANTASTIC blogs are a drop in the bucket. I want to share all of your links, but alas I have dinner plans later tonight, and I feel sure it would take me three more days to brag about all of you. Just know that you're loved and admired and I'm sending air kisses to each of you (because I'm on antibiotics and not contagious at the moment).

Thursday, January 08, 2009


The NYTimes blog, Paper Cuts, name-dropped Bibliobuffet today in a post called "Librarian, There's Some Bacon in My Book." Go check it out here. Very funny stuff. As a future librarian I can only hope the breakfast meat is minimal.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Library Run! Nonfiction Overflow!

Go read about everyone's Library Loot at Eva's! Click on the image to hop over there.

Ung!!!!!!!!!!! That's the sound of one sick Andi. I'm still trying to shake this multiweek cold/sinus infection/disaster I've had in my head. Methinks a very expensive doctor appointment/prescription bill is in my future. *making the appointment now* 9:15 tomorrow morning. Done!

Even though I feel like the lowliest pile of poo, I still have work to do. Four of my five online classes are open, and I have student e-mail up to my hoo-hah. They're all answered right this minute, but we'll see how long that lasts.

I was forced to leave the house this morning to go pick up a syllabus, so naturally I stopped by the library. I needed to grab my first book for the World Citizen Challenge, The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria. You might remember that Obama was caught reading this one a while back, and if it's good enough for Obama, it's good enough for me. It actually looks really interesting:

"This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else." So begins Fareed Zakaria's important new work on the era we are now entering. Following on the success of his best-selling The Future of Freedom, Zakaria describes with equal prescience a world in which the United States will no longer dominate the global economy, orchestrate geopolitics, or overwhelm cultures. He sees the "rise of the rest" — the growth of countries like China, India, Brazil, Russia, and many others��”as the great story of our time, and one that will reshape the world. The tallest buildings, biggest dams, largest-selling movies, and most advanced cell phones are all being built outside the United States. This economic growth is producing political confidence, national pride, and potentially international problems.

When I was grabbing this book I happened to lay eyes on a book I've wanted to read for what seems like FOREVER...The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. I've lusted after it since the very first time I heard an NPR interview about it. I'm sure you're all familiar already, but for the sake of continuity here's the blurb:

"Let us try a creative experiment," Alan Weisman proposes on page three: If humans disappeared from earth, what would happen? To your home, for example. To our cities, farms, and oceans. To the animals that remain. Or to the billion tons of plastic we'd leave behind. Deserving of the lively conversation it will inspire, rich with spectacular detail — from the edge of the universe to the underground city of Cappadocia (spacious enough to house 30,000 people!) to the forests of New England — The World without Us is, in Bill McKibben's apt words, "one of the grandest thought experiments of our time."

And if you care to see it, here's a video:

On a fiction note, I started Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, last night. I desperately want to see the movie, so I thought I'd tackle the book first. So far I can't really say what I think of it. I'm only lukewarm at this point, but it's too early to call time of death.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Daisy Miller, by Henry James

I have a hit and miss relationship with Henry James, but looking over his novella, Daisy Miller, I knew I could struggle through it long enough to finish should that be the case. Such was certainly the case when I read The Turn of the Screw. While Screw was a great premise, it made me want to pluck out every last fingernail.
I can happily report that Daisy Miller wasn't a struggle at all! And in the grand tradition of reading classics for weird and/or shallow reasons (like Pride and Prejudice because it played a key role in You've Got Mail) I had to read it because I inadvertently named my dog Daisy Miller. When we got her I struggled and waxed poetic about my reasons to want to name the dog something literary. At the end of the day I couldn't think of anything, and she looked like her name should be Daisy. Little did I realize at the time, I did name her something literary.
The Daisy Miller of the book is an uncultivated, flirty American girl. She's beautiful, she's charming, and she longs to be a part of high society even though her mother is a little "off," her brother is a snotty little brat, and American society living in Europe tends to think Daisy a little too big for her britches. When Winterbourne--an American man who runs in the same circles--meets her he can't decide if she knowingly balks at social conventions or if she's just clueless.
This book sort of reminded me of the beginning of all relationships. The way the simplest word or action can throw off one's internal balance and leave you reeling. Winterbourne is truly charmed by Daisy and chooses to overlook her unconventional approach to society--both polite female society and her seemingly kamikaze approach to relationships with men. Her naivety both attracts and repels Winterbourne right up until the novella's conclusion. I can't tell you much about that conclusion for fear of ruining the whole darn thing for potential readers, but it is quite the thoughtful ending.
So I'm 1/1 with Henry James. I really enjoyed this slim little volume. It certainly packs a punch for such a wee tiny little book. A good way to start 2009 I'd say!
Oh, and now that I've finished, my dog's name is doubly fitting. Sometimes I can't tell if she's really naive and clueless or just leading me on and playing me for treats.

Monday, January 05, 2009

So Much for a Roaring Start

Books in 2009 so far? What?

I found myself away from my house for several days after New Year's seeing friends and spending time with the cutie, and I haven't read a bit! However, I have been writing. My newest piece for Bibliobuffet is "Reading Resolutions," a written version of my intentions to read more essays in 2009.

Take a look.

I'm supposed to have lunch with a friend shortly, and I need to put finishing touches on a couple of online courses before they kick up tomorrow, but I'll be back soon with more book talk.

Happy Monday, bloggy lovas!
Images by Freepik