Posts Tagged 'Books'

Best Reads, 2010

Sure, I may have increased my online involvement in 2010 (tweet, tweet), but I still found time for some good paper reads. …Except for Strong Motion, which I admit that I read on my iPhone Kindle application during my morning bus rides. Also, I left out most of my class-assigned reads from early 2010. These are my pleasure reads 🙂

Clockwise, from top left

  1. Midnight’s Children (Salmon Rushdie). A re-read; This is one of the few books that is complex enough to re-read over and over
  2. Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace). 1100 pages of small-font heavily-footnoted brilliance. My theory is that the first 100 pages is just a test to see if you have the brains/work ethic to read the whole thing.
  3. Close Range (Annie Proulx). Remember Brokeback Mountain? This is the collection that contains the original short story. Some of the most stunningly beautiful prose I’ve ever read.
  4. Strong Motion (Jonathan Franzen). After reading Freedom (see #7), it’s clear that this is a younger, less-developed Franzen who’s writing.
  5. Spoon Fed (Kim Severson). The memoir of NYTimes’ food writer Kim Severson. She traces stories of eight cooks (both famous and not) who helped shape her life and career.
  6. Absalom, Absalom (William Faulkner). As an English major and a Southerner, I love/hate/love Faulkner. You know.
  7. Freedom (Jonathan Franzen). Brilliant, Read It Right Now, Enough Said. Also, note the similarity in cover design for this and Infinite Jest..?
  8. The Poems of George Herbert. Reformation-era poet who wrote “architectural” poems, both in the content and the structure of the poem. Super cool and geeky.
  9. Wieland, or The Transformation (Charles Brockden Brown). Family curses, religious fanaticism, vulnerable women, and madness! …Supposedly this is the first official American novel.
  10. The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates. Smart lady, moments of insight, but gets repetitive quickly.

I’m Having an English Major Weekend

My thesis is due Monday (eep!) and I’ve basically set aside my social life for the past two weeks to really hone this piece. It’s particularly hard doing a creative thesis– it takes a lot of discipline to keep working on something even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired.

But on the subject of books and literature… I wanted to link to this excellent article from The Non-Consumer Advocate about the Amazon Kindle versus old-fashioned books. I’ve tried to be pragmatic about technology (getting an iphone was an angst-inducing decision for me) but I think I must side with the article on this one. Books aren’t environmentally perfect, but they’re a much better alternative than the Kindle, which has a massive carbon footprint and a short life span.

I was particularly impressed by the article’s observation about how the kindle will be “upgraded” in the future:

What’s going to happen to all these Kindles in two years when Amazon comes out with a newer, shinier, improved version? (Titanium for him, pink for her.)

This has certainly been the case with the ipod– or, well, with almost any product, really. This is a great example of the way that corporations exploit gender in order to maximize their profit. And, of course, causing massive environmental waste in the process.

As for me, I’ll stick with my old-fashioned, “recyclable and virtually indestructible” book. In fact, there’s a stack of them right here waiting for me to get back to my thesis…

Rurality 101

No pictures today– sometimes I have to rely on words alone. This is probably good for me, given that I’m an English major. Which brings me to…

A book recommendation!

amusing

Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman.

I first read this book as a senior in high school, when my father gave it to me (on top of a stack of other books) for my graduation. This is one of the top ten books that changed my life– not necessarily because it was beautifully written (in fact, Postman’s style can be pretty obtuse) but because it provoked me to re-think my relationship to technology, the media, and the world in general. Given that we live in a media-saturated (post)modern world (I am writing a blog post, not a letter, after all), it’s tricky to turn a critical lens on technology. But this book isn’t a sermon, and Postman is no Luddite. Rather, Amusing Ourselves to Death is a historical, psychological, and social exploration of media in the broadest sense, and the evidence that turns up is hard to ignore.

Here’s the foreword, which I’m quoting in full because it’s short and worth reading:

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

After reading AOTD, at 17 years old, I drastically reduced my time on the computer and in front of the television. It wasn’t a disciplinary cold-turkey sort of thing; I actually began to feel physically disgusted in front of a screen. I needed more conversations; more fresh air. More dirt. As a result, I began to reconnect with something I had forgotten: my rural, solitary, Southern, low-income, dirt-filled childhood.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m living on a farm. No cell phone service, no internet. Just ploughed fields, piles of scrap metal and construction remnants, and me. Maybe it’s the free time, or maybe because I just finished reading Huckleberry Finn for my senior comps in the fall, but I’ve begun to do really Southern things. Like whittling.

I’m sure my posts will get comically rural over the next few weeks.

Reading Spots, Nooks, and Spaces

My family is… how do you say… Chronically Chaotic, and it’s made me a better person. When my WASP-y friends come to visit, they find my family a refreshing change from their ubiquitous (read: boring) Quiet Clean Household. They exhale. They spill. When I visit their families, I savor the silence.

It seems that everything I do is in response to having grown up in chaos. I love quiet places; I am always searching for peace. I especially love nooks– little places to curl up and hide from responsibility (or from messes, crying/fighting children, and so on). I’ve always kept my dorm room clean, probably because it was impossible to keep a clean room at home.

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I’m spending a week at my parents’ house, so lately this has been my favorite place to work/read. It’s a sitting room that I painted and redecorated for them over Spring Break. Whenever I visit, I take this room on as my responsibility– to keep clean, to curl up and read in the sunlight.

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I spent the last few days at my cousins’ farm– which meant, any time indoors was spent on this day bed. For good reading spots, windows are a must. A good green view makes daydreaming easier, and sunlight is easier on the eyes if I’m reading a book. Also required: squishy pillows and a harmonious color scheme.

Cover Art Collage

Even as I settle into the beauty that this summer promises, I’m having to plan ahead for my Honors thesis, which I’ll begin in the fall. My reading list is double the size of regular English majors, so… in lieu of actually working, I decided to procrastinate with a pretty collage!

Honors Reading Collage

I judge a book by its cover (don’t lie; so do you). Sort of the same way that I [used to] buy shampoo in the prettiest bottle. Cover art is so interesting, particularly the way that it evolves with each edition. In a Children’s Literature class that I took at Hollins University, we examined the evolution of cover art for The Great Gilly Hopkins— Gilly’s appearance ranges from childlike to adolescent, from tomboyish to very strange sort of hip femininity. I always preferred the original “face obscured by bubble gum” cover. It allowed the imagination to color in the rest.

It’s also always amusing having to read old books that are being re-designed and marketed as chic modern reads– like the Barnes and Noble “Classics” edition of Robinson Crusoe. What is that cover– a mysterious romance novel, perhaps?

 

Key to the Collage:

1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
2. Complete Fiction of Nella Larson (I’m assigned Quicksand)
3. Shell Shaker by Leanne Howe
4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
5. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
6. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
8. Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
9. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Marie Borroff trans.)
10. Paradise Lost by John Milton
11. Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope
12. Way of the World by William Congreve
13. A Good Man is Hard to Find (and other stories) by Flannery O’Connor
14. The Life and Times of Michael K. by J. M. Coetzee
15. Turn of the Screw by Henry James
16. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
17. Henry V by William Shakespeare
18. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
19. Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove
20. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Not Included (but which I still have to read):
Poems of W.B. Yeats
Selected lyric poems by Ben Jonson
Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer
Poems of Anne Bradstreet
Poems by  Theodore Roethke
Shakespeare’s Sonnets: 29, 30, 55, 73, 116, 129, 130, 144, 146

Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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