Thursday, May 31, 2007
More words about reading
Ok, I know I've been talking a lot about reading and writing. I think I'm about done. I'm pretty much through this phase. I have one more book about reading and writing beside my bed but I may return it to the library without even reading it. I need to get reading for my dissertation* and writing things of educational relevance rather than living in my fictional "leisure reader and writer" world.

Anyway...I almost held back on this post for fear you all are sick of reading about reading. That would make sense. But then I was typing up my favorite quotes from a recent read (a strange habit that I'm glad I have...I love looking back at little gems I've picked up from a variety of authors) and I realized that I have a passage too beautiful not to share.

I finished Anna Quindlen's How Reading Changed My Life a few weeks back. It was fantastic. She does a nifty thing at the end--she lists a variety of "top ten" books. 10 Books Recommended by a Really Good Librarian. 10 Good Book Club Suggestions. 10 of the Books My Exceptionally Well-Read Friend Ben Says He's Taken the Most From. But the best! thing from the book was this passage:

Yet in her sorrow there was joy, the remembered joy of someone who had been a reader all her life, whose world had been immeasurably enlarged by the words of others. Perhaps it is true that at base we readers are dissatisfied people, yearning to be elsewhere, to live vicariously through words in a way we cannot live directly through life. Perhaps we are the world’s great nomads, if only in our minds. I travel today in a way I once dreamed of traveling as a child. And the irony is that I don’t care for it very much, I am the sort of person who prefers to stay at home, surrounded by family, friends, familiarity, books. This is what I like about traveling: the time on airplanes spent reading, solitary, happy. It turns out that when my younger self thought of taking wing, she wanted only to let her spirit soar. Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.

I. LOVE. THAT. I wish desperately that I had written it.

Of course, Quindlen broke my heart when she suggested that my life-changing book (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter) is a bit of a cliché.

And more than a few were like one woman, who said of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, “I read it when I was fourteen, when I didn’t feel like anybody understood how I felt. And here is this book about a fourteen-year-old girl who had the same feelings I did.”

Apparently, I'm predictable. *sigh*

A lovely work. You should pick it up.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I love this....

The Guardian has a special report about "writer's rooms." 19 authors provided a picture and description of where their genius happens. Click on the name for their intimate information.

I think my favorites are Hanif Kureish and Will Self.


Monday, May 28, 2007
Some words about lists
I make a lot of lists. A. LOT. I normally have one or two "To Do" lists going every week. I keep lists of books, movies, music and restaurants I want to check out. Before I travel, I make a list of things I want to bring and all the locations I want to visit. Lately, one of my many [strange] obsessions is to collect the list of books I find in my library books. The lists are made my a previous reader of the book. It is a list that has all the other books the person before me checked out of the library on that day. I've even nudged Drew awake late in the night when I come across one. [He loves it] I find the lists so fascinating. And often I scribble some of the titles in my notebook. What the hell. The person obviously has similar taste. I love looking at their handwriting, the spacing, the comments (couldn't find, look next time...). I think it has something to do with my voyeur tendencies. This seems less intrusive, though, than looking in other people's windows. I think I've a recovering voyeur these days.

My sister in law, Alison, recently told Drew about a book she came across in Borders....a collection of found grocery lists. I was curious, did a google search, and found their blog. Fascinating. They've posted almost 2000 scraps of paper. Love it. I desperately want my grocery list to be found. Desperately. Although, they would probably have to start a new category for mine.

Type A person who misspells EVERYTHING. I organize my lists by aisle [see, type A] but I can't spell and instead of asking Drew how to spell something, I just 'do the best I can' [which inevitably is not very well].


Thursday, May 24, 2007
Yes, I still talk about politics
I know many of you have been wondering. Here I go...

I'm teaching a special topics class to about 32 undergraduates. The class is loosely based on my dissertation so it combines readings and discussions about citizenship, democracy and what we gain and lose in the system. The class is going pretty well and I'm having great and interesting discussions with my students. I don't often say this, but my undergraduates are actually giving me hope. Yes. Hope. From undergraduates.

I'm been pretty down on democracy lately. Even with the excitement of 08 and Obama, Edwards, and Pelosi. Even with all the discussions on blogs about the great material changes we are seeing despite our [pathetic excuse for] leaders. Even with all those things, I've been down. Sometimes I feel that maybe our problems are just too great. Too big. Too systemic. Those times? Those times make me want to move. Leave. Leave it all behind for someone else to deal with. Or for no one to deal with. Either way.

But this class. My class. My students are filled with so much hope. And it isn't blind hope. It isn't just 22 year old idealism. There is some of that. But there is more. There is reading of democratic theory and there is shock when we realize how far we've come from our ideals. But instead of defeat, they answer back with excitement. An almost giddy feeling of "the world is ours to fix." And they see potential in the greatest things. The things that I've been overlooking from my jaded, pessimistic ivory tower. I'm thankful for them.

And I'm thankful for Al Gore. Yes, I know I said I was giving him up. And I want to. I really do. Want to move on. Want to let him do his thing. But when I read articles like THIS in Time?! It is hard. And when I read THIS excerpt from his book, it is even harder. For me, Gore is the perfect blend of critical and optimistic. He is disappointed in the way America (and Americans) are going but he has faith that we'll turn it around.

Says one friend of 2000,

"He's not willing to be a victim--didn't want to call himself that, didn't want people to think of him that way. He didn't want Americans to doubt America."

And Gore writes of the decline of reason and discourse in Washington and beyond,

"It is too easy--and too partisan--to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America's public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason--the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power--remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault."

Gore places the blame on lots of different things--the shift away from print medium, the trend of senators to cater to sound bites and fundraising and Americans spending too much time watching t.v. and not enough thinking and acting. He's persuasive without chastising. Critical without being defeatist. Hopeful without ignoring the difficulty in getting back to a better public sphere. Is he idealist? Sure. Does he romanticize print and an era of old? Sure. And I love it.

Interestingly enough, he advocates the Internet as a medium that can help. He argues the Internet increases reflexive reading and deliberation in a way similar to print media. He also argues that the Internet gets lots of voices involved and helps people argue. As someone who has been touting the Internet as a way to change politics for the better (yet I haven't given up my attachment to print media and face-to-face interaction), Gore is right up my ally.

He gave voice to my concerns and my hope for the future.

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Monday, May 21, 2007
Love is a Mix Tape
Over the weekend, I read Rob Sheffield's Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time. The concept of the book is great--Sheffield, a music critic, explains key moments of his life by sharing a mix tape that he made at the time. Most moments center around his relationship with his wife who died at age 31.

Sheffield's book moved me as much as any mix tape I've ever made. He made me grateful for both music and love. I appreciated his vivid description of both. Most critics talk about his beautiful accounts of music. But the book is so much more. The way he writes about love, marriage and his wife [in particular] filled me with an unexplainable ache.

I was a wallflower who planned to stay that way, who never imagined anybodies else to be. Suddenly, I got all tangled up in this girl's noisy, juicy, sparkly life. Without her, I didn't want to do anything except being good at Renee. You know the story about Colonel Tom Parker, after Elvis died? The Colonel said, "Hell, I'll keep right on managing him." That's how I felt. Every tree in the woods, every car that passed me on the road, every song on the radio, all seemed to be Gloria Grahame at the end of The Big Heat, asking the same question: "What was your wife like?" It was the only conversation I was interested in.

I suddenly realized how much being a husband was about fear: fear of not being able to keep somebody safe, of not being able to protect somebody from all the bad stuff you want to protect them from. Knowing they have more tears in them than you will be able to keep them from crying. I realized that Renee had seen me fail and that she was the person I was going to be failing in front of for the rest of my life...But that's who your life is, the person who you fail in front of. Love is so confusing: there's no peace of mind.

The book should most definitely come with a warning:


Consider this your warning, people.

Oh, and he's a recovering academic so he also throws in a few Nietzsche, Benjamin, Zizek and tenure track references that increase his "adorably geeky" quotient in my eyes.

I was still serfin away at grad school. My friends and I assumed that we would soon be tenured professors, which is an excellent life goal--it's like planning to be Cher. You think, I'm going to wear beads and fringed gowns, and sing "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" on the way to work every morning, and then one day, I'm going to get a call saying, "Congratulations! You're Cher! Can you make it to Vegas by showtime?"

And even though the book is about much more than music, it still got me thinking about the soundtrack of my intimate love and losses throughout the years.

Good stuff. Go, go--pick up some summer reading.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
And the right embraces feminism
As many of you know, I have begun [tentative] work on my dissertation. I have a basic research question and chapter ideas...the details will be worked out later. I am analyzing how Muslim women are demonstrating democracy to Western audiences. I've long thought it peculiar that every time the media, government, military, average right wings attempt to "prove" democracy is happening in Iraq, they show full color pictures of women. Women voting. Women reading. Women walking in the streets. So, I'm looking at a variety of cultural forums to see what the average American “sees” when they see democracy "working." There are lots of examples. Media stories, “chick lit” written by Muslim women, blogs my Muslim women… It has been fairly obvious to me that we (the West) would rather see women in the media as brown male bodies are either (a) scary or (b) dead. Moreover, there is nothing more democratic than liberating women, right? (And who better to liberate women than America? America! We’re SOOO liberated, we should definitely share our skills!) Up until now, I argue that this manipulation has been rather covert. In fact, being the generous critic that I am, I've even considered that the media (maybe) didn't realize that they were doing it. It makes sense that because of our suffrage history, they would be eager to use oppressed groups to prove democratic success.

But the public discourse took a turn today. A more overt turn. You can tell that the war is going poorly when the right has to turn to feminism.

Ladies and Gentlemen...I present you Oliver North. In all his "feminist" glory. Check out his article-- "US Presence in Iraq Promotes Muslim Feminism."

"No culture can truly celebrate mothers, unless they first respect women. In the United States, women hold top positions in government, law, academia, business, and even the military. Democrats claim to be the favorite of America’s women. Indeed, polling data shows that upwards of 55 percent of American women vote Democratic in national elections. And Nancy Pelosi, the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, insists that Democrats care about "women’s rights." Unfortunately, if Ms. Pelosi and her Democrat Party allies have their way, 650 million women around the globe may well be abandoned to the most misogynistic abuse imaginable at the hands of radical Islamists."

You know what I love? I love that he uses " " around women's rights.

It gets better....

"The masters of the mainstream media routinely report on Islam’s violent Sunni vs. Shiite sectarian divide — most evident in Iraq. But scant attention has been devoted to the number one target of radical Islam: Muslim women. Nor do the potentates of the press bother to identify the principal protectors of Muslim women today: the Armed Forces of the United States."

Indeed. Protectors of Muslim women. Protectors.

You know what has gotten "scant attention?" The fact that both Iraqi women and female soldiers within the United States military are suffering under the patriarchal structures of post-invasion Iraqi society and the United States military. Oh and someone should tell North that the perspective of both Iraqi women and female soldiers have been largely excluded from the debate about Iraq in the corporate press and in the government. And don’t even get me started on the idea of “protectors.” Cultural relativism anyone?!

But better still....

"Thanks to young Americans wearing flak jackets and helmets, hundreds of schools have been built for Muslim girls, millions of women have the right to vote, scores of female health care clinics have been opened, and hundreds of thousands of women now work, have their own bank accounts, use cell-phones — even serve in elected office. But all of these advances may soon stop if our Congress insists that “the war is lost” and U.S. troops must now come home."

I'm pretty sure he just listed using cell phones as a sign of liberation. I'm pretty sure this whole article is ridiculous and offensive. But I hope that the right keeps on keeping on. You go. You make these arguments. You use those women as pawns. I can only hope that the general public (and many feminists) start to catch on. My dissertation is going to be rich. RICH.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007
Just me being nosey again
Hi. Things are almost back to normal down here. I've successfully completed my classes this semester and now I'm just grading my students' work. And grading. And grading. Nothing like a final paper AND an essay final to get graded in a week. No wonder my students hate me as they had to write them in a week...

I just had to share this little piece of goodness....

I know a lot of you read Postsecret. I heart Postsecret. But I may heart THIS even more.

The Book Inscriptions Project! How fun is it to read personal messages in books?! Very fun.

I don't give nearly enough books as gifts. And I don't write nearly enough clever inscriptions.


Saturday, May 05, 2007
Some words about reading and writing
Last weekend we watched a rather unremarkable movie The History Boys. I found the movie incredibly boring save for one line--

Hector, the aged and weary teacher, told a student the best thing about reading:

"The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."

I loved that. Very much.

I've been thinking a lot about reading lately as I'm currently reading Jonathan Franzen's How to be Alone and Anna Quindlen's How Reading Changed My Life. Both are fantastic and should be very easy to get through but my reading has been interrupted a lot by life recently. But, in a way, I appreciate the slow way I am working my way through. It has read to a very meditative look at both works. I've had lots of time to dwell on the words and the messages.

I've always liked reading. Can reading be a skill? Because if it is, I have that skill. I read my first "novel" in second grade--Charlotte's Web. I very vividly remember sitting in our large yellow rocker and when I read the last word I yelled out to my mom that "I was done" and she smiled a proud smile. It was in that moment that I became a bit of snob. I connected reading to a proud smile. Connected reading to goodness. Connected reading to superiority. I devoured books. I locked my sister in our room when she was a mere toddler and taught her to read. I know now that she was merely memorizing the words I said and repeating them back to me but I felt proud that I shared the gift of reading with her at a young age. It was also convenient that I really only had one friend and she was a reader as well. I spent a lot of time in my room reading. Alone. I wasn't shy. Not at all. Quite the contrary-- as evidenced by my propensity to offer to read aloud in front of the class. And (I'm quite embarrassed about this now) correct my fellow classmates' reading errors publicly and loudly. Not shy. Never been shy. But I do like to immerse myself in a good book. I like the solitude a book provides. A sense of escapism. A sense of simultaneous closeness and distance from life.

How convenient, then, that I would choose a profession that demands a tremendous amount of reading and writing (which I'm beginning to finally conclude go hand in hand as interests). Further, it demands a tremendous amount of silence and voice. A connection to people yet the space to analyze on your own. I struggle with the amount of solitude connected to my writing. Long days in front of the computer, alone, being contemplative does horrible things to a psyche. At least to my psyche. I crave companionship and conversation. But it is also very romantic. And there is nothing like a great day of writing to make you feel like you've had a very rewarding chat with the ultimate conversationalist.

Anyway, I digress...the History Boys quotation... Jonathan Franzen speaks my feelings exactly. I know I was hard on his 27th City but this work of collected essays is fantastic. Truly fantastic. The type of fantastic that means I am dreading coming to the last essay...

In particular, when I read his generalizations about readers I felt he had very clearly grown up with me and was actually featuring me in his essay. He wrestles with the idea that reading is a bit of a socially isolated experience but not one necessarily dependent on social isolation.

Pride compels me, here, to draw a distinction between young fiction readers and young nerds. The classic nerd, who finds a home in facts or technology or numbers, is marked not by a displaced sociability but by an antisociability. Reading does resemble more nerdy pursuits in that it's a habit that both feeds on a sense of isolation and aggravates it. Simply being a "social isolate" as a child does not, however, doom you to bad breath and poor party skills as an adult. In fact, it can make you hypersocial. It's just that at some point you'll begin to feel a gnawing, almost remorseful need to be along and do some reading--to reconnect to that community.

Arguably, I'm a bit of a nerd as well...but I prefer to think of myself as hypersocial who craves alone time.

And speaking of writing as a profession....phew....

Writers and readers have always been prone to this estrangement. Communion with the virtual community of print requires solitude, after all. But the estrangement becomes much more profound, urgent, and dangerous when that virtual community is no longer densely populated and heavily trafficked; when the saving continuity of literature itself is under electronic and academic assault; when your alienation become generic rather than individual, and the business pages seem to report on the world's conspiracy to grandfather not only you but all your kind, and prince of silence seems no longer to be obscurity but outright oblivion.

There are so many great things about this work...his description of his father in the first essay (which may very well be my favorite thing that Franzen has ever written), his critique of our political world and his complete honesty about his limitations and weaknesses as a husband, writer and citizen. But I want you to read it for yourself and pick out the good parts. The parts at when you feel Franzen taking your hand.

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Friday, May 04, 2007
The same...only different
The first public e-mail archive is underway.

The British Library is compiling a national record of British life by email, the first of its kind, to become a part of its permanent archives. Contributors are asked to submit messages in categories including blunders, love and romance, complaints, humour, news, and tales from abroad. Less then 24 hours after its launch it had received more than 1,000 contributions...The email archive will join the library's collection of correspondence, which includes letters by well known literary figures, such as Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Ted Hughes, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.

I'm not sure how I feel about this...on one hand, I bet it is going to be awesome and it probably does reflect the cultural communication pattern of our time. On the other, they should be embarrassed to put e-mail correspondence next to letters from Austen and Woolf. Those would have to be some pretty good e-mails.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Worker's Comp
I've noticed this pesky bruise on my right wrist about an inch from my hand. It is painful and ugly. And since most people don't BRUISE THEIR WRISTS, I've spent the last 24 hours obsessing over the fact that I most definitely have cancer. It is most inconvenient as I don't have any time to go to the doctor this week and by the time I actually get checked out the cancer will have spread to all my internal organs and I will have finished all my papers this semester only to pass on. I kept thinking about the bruise because it hurt every single time I typed a word on my computer.

But then I thought...paper constantly resting on the keyboard.

And I got embarrassed.