06 October 2009

A Right Scummer

I just got through (and it was a chore) Dixie Cash's Don't Make Me Choose Between You and My Shoes. Please don't judge me. I read it because the ladies in my book club were raving about this woman and told me I had to read something by her! Never one to disrespect my elders, I reluctantly checked out the flashy trashy paperback adorned with red satin sequined cowboy boots and every indication of 'chick lit' smattered across the pages.
For the first week of my posession of this rare jewel, I kept it hidden beneath a Christopher Buckley novel (would you believe). Usually Buckley's works make me feel a little ashamed of myself, but next to this little novel, Supreme Courtship (Political satire on the Supreme Court...not a romance novel) looked positively cerebral.
I did absolutely no background research on this author so I know nothing about this woman other than she is thoroughly Southern and seems pretty proud of it. I did enjoy that aspect of her writing to be fair. She caught the slightly trashy, slightly prissy, slightly Dolly Partonesque attributes of Southern culture. So I have to say I did chuckle a little over some of the mannerisms and idiomatic speech.
Miss Cash (a pseudonym...shocker!) tells her readers the story of two gutsy beauty shop owners who moonlight as detectives. Their partnership has been comically named The Domestic Equalizers, because in down home Salt Lick, Texas the only thing needing investigation is a cheatin' spouse. These ladies are invited up to New York to speak in a conference run by the National Association of Private Investigators. While there they meet up with a fellow Texan and cause all kinds of bootscootin' kneeslappin' pandemonium in the Big Apple. Also they solve a murder case while looking fabulous in an overpriced pair of Jimmy Choos! What a hoot!
That was a painful paragraph to write. Needless to say this sort of literature doesn't exactly float my boat, but some might find it passingly amusing. In my estimation Miss Cash reads entirely too many romance novels and female detective stories and unsucessfully combined the two. While slightly a little more sucessful with the detective part, the "bad guy" was entirely too predictable and there were no scenes of danger. The only time one of the characters even got close to the murderer himself, it was turned into over-the-topic comedic dialogue, and the conversation amazingly got around to shoes yet again.
Verdict: Pass! Two thumbs down!

Scripture of the Day: (Ephesians 5: 15-21)See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

Reading Recommendation: I think we could all use something to wash that down with. So, I recommend Michael Jackson's Beer Companion. Not the late King of Pop, I actually was confused myself. This Michael Jackson is my current hero. The man travels all around the world tasting beer. At the risk of sounding sophomoric, that is freaking awesome! Anyway, this book will help people who make bad beer choices (which is like everyone who even considered: Bud Light; Keystone Light; Miller Light; Anything Light; PBR; Anything in a can, excluding Modelo; And that weak wannabe brew you are holding...yes you...put it down). There will be an upcoming blog on beer pretty soon. I think I will add that as a whole new section, but for now we will stick with this super long rabbit trail.

Quote of the Day: "Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches necessary comptencies that daily life requires and provieds; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become." ~C.S. Lewis

01 October 2009

In Media Res

So I realize that I have already laid out a mission statement for this blog, but I have changed my mind as to what direction I want to take this. I was laboring under the impression that I had to have just one blog doing one thing, but I have decided that I don't have to be hemmed in like this. No one puts baby in a corner!
I know it's a little odd to put a new mission statement after quite a few blogs that already hopefully convey what I am doing here, but I don't want to erase what I have already wrote. So, let's just pretend for a moment that my blog is one giant 'epic poem.' Usually an epic poem begins "In media res" (hence the title) which basically means, in the middle. It then goes into a series of flashbacks to explain the beginning. Think of this as one giant flashback.
Some of you may know that I spend some time volunteering at my library. Overall I've found it rather uplifting and fulfilling being around books and some very sweet ladies. As I was shelving in the young adults section (a rather wretched section by all literary standards) I came across a Darren Shan "Cirque de Freak" book that some unfortunate young person had checked out. I quickly glanced over my shoulder, as I usually do when I find those books returning to us. One of these days I just know the child who reads such trash will eventually come in with a handgun and shoot the whole place up. Happily for me, the young ignoramus was not there, and I merely put Mr. Shan back on the shelf with the rest of his putrid ilk and attempted to push them as far back as I could and turned one particularly sensational looking one backward so it would no longer attract the eye of a hapless misguided teenager.
As I performed this small duty to my community I began to think about the deplorably low amount of reading we do in this country. Earlier this year I remembered being very much heartened by a statement made by the National Endowment for the Arts saying that the amount of people age 18 and older who had read one book, article or poem in the last year, was on the rise. I later learned that though it has jumped from 46.7% in 2002 to 50.2% in 2008, the percentage is nowhere near the 56.9% it was in 1982. But then I thought, why on earth am I even yearning for that 56.9% of people 18 and older reading one book in a year. Why isn't it more than that? It's a whole year and all they had to read was a poem? It's a real travesty.
And then, once you get past that you have to deal with the type of literature they are reading. When the NEA did their survey in 2008, they did not differentiate between reading online and reading on the page. So a poem could be one of my myspace poems, and although that is good literature not every teenaged poet produces much in the way of quality. Then you have people like Stephanie Meyer and her "Twilight" series. I could go on for a while about her, and I believe I will in a different blog. All I will say for now is that if Stephan King is criticizing your writing skills, it's time to find a new job.
Thus, this blog was born. I believe that a nation is only as great as its people, and we need to step up our game. If we aren't doing such a basic thing as reading, what right do we have to be a world power? We cannot call ourselves civilized if we shun the sole exersice that broadens our minds and empowers us. We must take advantage of the opportunities we have in America and not let these vast resources of knowledge slip through our fingers! My mission is to spark interest in literature and to get America reading.

So I have, as of this moment, three blogs. If you are lucky enough to find my profile on homeschoolalumni.org you will be able to view my poetry blog. It's where I dump all my poetry good and bad, but I will no longer bore you with them on here. I also throw them intermittently in the "notes" on Facebook, but I don't count that as a blog.
This blog will purposefully be for book reviews and literature in history/news. I hope to make this one a more erudite discussion where I and my readers can interact with good literature and revel in the great conversation of the ages.
But where is your third blog, you may ask? Well, *shuffles feet and shifts eyes nervously* before I was good at anything web related and knew relatively little of social networking, I had a Myspace. I still have a Myspace partly because I have my 'everything' blog on there, and partly because I have a friend who adamantly refuses to switch over to Facebook. So, my third and final blog is my Myspace blog, into which is thrown the refuse of my intellectual blogs. As far as Myspace goes it's fairly classy so you can feel free to check it out.
And now I will copy my good friend Emily, and state that this blog you are currently finishing reading is (*crosses fingers*) the last time you will hear personal details form me unless they directly influence the book or the literature topic I am discussing.
Thanks for reading!

Running in Flip-Flops

Today I would like to do something a little different and talk about a children’s book , and how it pertains to the real world. This book is called, Love You Forever and it’s written by a man named Robert Munsch. I have to admit, it’s been quite a while since I read this book, and I actually had to do a quick search to even find the author. But recently some events in my life have made me think a lot about this book.
The book itself is a (perhaps syrupy) sweet story of a young boy growing up with his mother who rocks him to sleep every night singing the same refrain, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m with you, my baby you’ll be.” We, the readers, get to see this charming bond between mother and son develop as the boy becomes a young man, and eventually the roles are reversed and the young man is rocking his frail and aged mother singing, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m with you, my mommy you’ll be.” At the end of the book the young man is seen with his own daughter singing the song his mother used to sing to him.
Maria Shriver, who reportedly cannot read the book through without crying said, in an issue of O, The Oprah Magazine , “It says so much about the circle of life, youth, parenting, and our responsibility for our parents as we grow older.” Ms. Shriver does have a point. The scene where the young man is finally rocking his mother is rather touching, and the fact that he can pass on the legacy of his mother’s love to his own children is very heartwarming.
But, (we all knew there was a ‘but’ right?...the cranky critic just can’t be satisfied with sweet, can she?) there is a moment in the book where the young man’s mother crawls through his window at night to sing to him. I have to say for me this was slightly creepy, and looking back on the book it did add a certain tone to the book I was a little uncomfortable with, but it isn’t really that bad. Most will probably find it noble that the young man, instead of becoming frustrated with his mother for "smothering him," goes back to his mother in her old age and sings to her. I would like it if all the people who do end up reading this book look back on the love their own mothers showed them, and perhaps extend some love in return. Just don’t crawl through any windows or try to move back home, give the woman some space!
I did end up going to Robert Musnch’s website, and the very first thing I noticed about this book is that it began with the song in the book. He apparently wrote the song when he and his wife lost two children. After I heard that, I no longer minded about any of the overly sweet sentiments, and I no longer even cared about the mother crawling through the window. Sometimes if you think someone is doing something stupid, weird, or creepy, you should just ask them what their motives are. You end up becoming much more sympathetic.

Quote for the Day: "Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings" ~Heinrich Heine

Scripture of the Day: Psalm 119:30 "I have chosen the way of truth: Thy judgments have I laid before me."

Reading Suggestion: 2BR02B, It's pronounced, To Be Or Not To Be by Kurt Vonnegut. It's an amazing short story that I would eventually like to dedicate an entire blog post to, but I would like you all to read it first.

30 September 2009

I'm Beyond Your Peripheral Vision, So You Might Wanna Turn Your Head

Recently I read a book called The Elegence of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. This book was originally written in French. It is actually Muriel Barbery's second excursion into the literary field, but I cannot find anywhere why this book took off like it did in the United States. I believe it all comes down to marketing. Europa publishing, the small publishing company that chooses a book every once in a while to really push in the United States, seems to have just chosen this one. Despite any obstacles this book is circulating in book clubs and coming off bookstore shelves all over the United States.
It's a story of a young girl and a concierge of an upscale hotel who are both hiding their intellectualism from the world. The first half, arguably the first two-thirds, of the book are a lot of cultural references which are vaugue at best and slightly pretentious at the worst. Madame Michel, the concierge, uses her facade as a member of the underclass to shield herself from possible pain. We only realize why at the end of the novel. Paloma, the young girl, is a member of the upper class and has come to terms with the 'fact' that life is a farce, and she doesn't want to grow up. The reader is told rather early (and it's fairly well advertised so I don't feel like I am ruining anything for anyone) that she plans on killing herself on her next birthday. Both the lives of these ladies are changed by the arrival of Mr. Ozu, an intellectual Japanese man, who sees through Madame Michel to who she really is, and teaches Paloma that she has something to live for.
Now, my own reaction was varied. I hesitate to recommend this to everyone for a few reasons. The biggest reason (for my Christian friends anyway) is that Paloma makes several references to God and his 'obvious' non-existance. It's not supposed to be about religion or theology, but it is mentioned. Another reason is that I believe when things are translated from the French (or from any language) some things are lost in translation and are a little hard to understand. A humorous example of one of these is when Paloma calls her sister's boyfriend, "A pustule." I know some people I could certainly apply this too, but I have to admit that that one has never seen the inside of my insult storage unit of my brain. Another reason is that it takes a long time for you to understand quite a few key things, like what exactly Paloma hates about her parent's life (she kind of comes off sounding just like a regular run-of-the-mill brat till the end) and why Madame Michel is hiding who she is.
I spoke earlier of the esoteric nature of the first half of this book. It's a bit hard to get through a book that is making artistic/literary/musical references that confused even me! Although if you want to try the last thirty to fifty pages are worth it. I cried.
Actually, honestly I hated this book up until the last thirty to fifty pages. I am very glad I didn't give up on it.

Scripture for the Day: II Corinthians 4:8-9 - "We are troubled on every sde, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not destroyed." (KJV)

Reading Recommendation: Many references are made in the book to Madame Michel's favorite book Anna Karinina so I wanted to make this one the suggestion. I know at least two very well-read people who also share a passion for this book. I plan on re-reading it and you should too.

15 April 2009

Hierarchy in America? Say it Ain't So!

Just a few weeks ago a former acquaintence of mine had some objection when someone was referred to as "trailer trash." "But they have loads of money," he protested, "they live in a lovely apartment in the hills of West Salem." Living in America I realized how easy it would be to become confused on the subject of class and its relation to money. America was just over a century (a mere infant on the international scene) at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This Revolution did away with some long established societal norms. A new class known as the Nouveau Riche arose from the increase of wealth. These were tradesmen who were born to a lower position in life, but due to the spread of factories and increasing opportunities had access to more and more money. Until the late 1800s/early 1900s the societal or class hierarchy was predominantly static and rested on your ancestry, societal influence, and your conduct. Those born into upperclass families acted with a certain amount of grace and expected manners, and it was a simple thing to differentiate between the classes. However, after the Industrial Revolution it became possible for those with no good breeding, education, or manners to become exceedingly wealthy. After a while things became even more confused with the rise of Liberalism in the minds of the wealthy who were still excluded from power. America was influenced greatly by the Revolution and by Liberalism. The class hierarchy in America, although it's there is not quite as static as it is to this day in some European countries. And there are good things to say about that. Unfortunately, the downside is that now our society has come to define money as a way to distinguish the upper from the lower classes and this is simply untrue. Many Americans don't want to accept that there are class distinctions in America. Cultural and Literary historian Paul Fussell in discussing his book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System says, "When recently asked what I am writing, 'A book about social class in America'....a few minutes later they silently get up and walk away....It is as if I had said, 'I am writing a book urging the beating to death of baby whales using the dead bodies of baby seals.'" It's a touchy subject with which many Americans are uncomfortable. But whether or not we want to admit it. It is there. And when I refer to someone lacking class or being "trailer trash," I am not merely referring to money. Journalist Doug Robarchek once said, "Money is related to class only in the minds of people who have too much of the former, too little of the latter or none of either." Anyone who knows me knows that money means absolutely nothing to me outside of paying for my student loans. I am not impressed by the Nouveau Riche or anyone claiming to belong to that section of America. Consider Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears. They are all wealthy women, but I would still consider them trailer trash because of their conduct, attitude, lack of education, and taste. I actually consider it slightly vulgar and lower class to compare incomes and talk about who "makes more." I shall conclude with a quote by director Roger Spottiswoode, "Class isn't something you buy. Look at you. You have a $500 suit on and you're still a lowlife." I think this pretty much sums up my feelings on class. If you want to talk to me about class, we'll talk. If you just want to compare incomes go to WalMart. They would probably be more impressed than me anyway.

23 February 2009

My Sister in the Ornaments

I was decorating the Christmas tree

When your audacity struck me


Painted on the ornament are our fictional selves

And I remember a time when she cared for me

What kicks could you possibly get from this?

In the face of my pink jumping jack estranged from her twin

I allow a surge of pain at the back of my eyes

And then there are the shoes we bought together

Mine is green, and hers is purple

Which happens to be my favorite color combination

But she doesn't know that because it is a recent development

And you have blocked her ears to the sound of my voice

There are five small angels for the five innocents whose family you have ripped apart.

Who do you think you are?

The moon and the stars for the young man who would have roped them for his baby niece if she had bid him

The basket of twelve flowers for each year she had with the boy before your winter frost

Sarah the viola and Anne the daisy, plucking their petals to "she loves me, but he loves me not."

And me with the candle to shine the light on your right to remain silent

In the silence of our hurt

Caused by you

Don't get me wrong I rebound fast

We just would like our sister back

12 February 2009

All My Drama and Space Travel

I'm just finishing up a book called Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution. It's so amazing I could not wait until I was completely finished to write a review for my adoring audience. I've been personally fascinated by the enigmatic Prime Minister of Russia ever since his mysterious rise from relative anonymity to the Presidency after the Yeltsin era in 2001. When Time Magazine awarded Vladimir Putin the 2007 Person-of-the-Year award, my fascination reached its height.
The former KGB agent, who in his younger days would never have been called particularly ambitious has always displayed a stubborn and unbending nature suited perfectly to taking on the leadership of a country as thoroughly confusing to its vascillating friends as it is to its ambiguous enemies.
Kremlin Rising written by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser is a brilliant expose of Vladimir Putin and the Russia he has shaped. It paints a picture of a leader stretched between teh old Soviet world he has grown up in and has framed his own worldviews and the new and democratic Russia he professes to desire for his people. It tells a story of a people who are tentatively enjoying their freedom and wealth and a people not quite ready to fully cut off their Soviet past and become "completely Westernized." But most of all this book is really a wonderful contribution to the "Russian question."
As former Cold War antagonists, the Russians have never experienced a firm and settled relationship with the United States. Despite the show of friendliness during the Bush administration, the intentions of Russia and its leader, continue to be misunderstood by the western world. Some countries continue to see Vladimir Putin as merely an ex KGB agent and therefore a threat to democracy and freedom. Some, more optomistically minded see only Putin the progressive (in Russian terms) reformer.
Baker and Glasser seem to consider Putin's Russia as too unstable to be able to last and his reign too volatile, but in my estimation I think he is terribly underestimated. Under Putin's leadership Russia has experienced the most growth they've known since Peter the Great. Public opinion polls are too highly in Putin's favor to be merely explained away by fear of the state.
Recently there has been talk of the current president, Dmitri Medvedev, extending the presidential term from four to six years. This extension will only apply to future presidents. There is no reason to believe that Vladimir Putin will not return to the office in 2012. In his own words the Prime Minister says, "In the Kremlin, I have a different position. Nobody controls me here. I control everybody myself."

11 February 2009

Jealousy is the Tribute Mediocracy Pays to Genius

Last night my parents, my little sister and I went to a debate at Oregon State University between my pastor and this professor whose name I never actually pinned down. It was about Truth vs. Tolerance: Which is More Important.
My pastor came at the topic by saying that it's not necessarily a dichotomy, but it's possible that the two are interrelated. "Truth," he said, "presupposes tolerance, and tolerance needs truth." Something that really brought home his point for me was when he explained that the exaltation of tolerance erases dialogue. Because when there is a solid Truth we can dialogue with one another, but if we are so worried about tolerating others and begin to censor our language we lose track of dialogue and only sit around "tolerating" each other.
The other professor (who oddly enough taught at the same junior college my brother in law went to) basically said there was no truth and what we really needed was tolerance in this world. When he was asked if he would tolerate intolerance, he seemed to bristle and said that of course there were things that you couldn't tolerate such as pollution and bigotry. My pastor here said it was a good example of "deconstructing your own argument."
Probably one of my favorite parts of the debate was when my plain speaking pastor turned to this professor and asked, "Who in the world do you think you are?" (to decide morality and immorality arbitrarily)
Something that really stood out to me due to recent interactions with my extended family was when the two men were discussing the supposed intolerant statement (to a homosexual) of, "I love you, but I hate your sin." My pastor said that you can love someone and not affirm what they are doing. This is what my family and I have been trying to do with my brother and sister and the family my sister married into. I guess some people don't understand that faithful are the wounds of a friend, and many are the kisses of enemies. I guess they just want to hear affirmations even when they are strictly disobeying the scriptures i.e. rejecting church, hating parents, or just going out of their way to be hateful in general. I am not sorry that I can't give that to you. If you are wrong. I am going to tell you. I can still love you, and hate what you are doing.