Thursday, January 1, 2009

Recent Readings - Jan 1, 2009

Goldengrove by Francine Prose. Intriguing novel about a thirteen-year-old girl coping with the accidental death of her older sister. Smooth and upbeat.

Marley and Me by John Grogan. A cute sentimental story of one couple's experiences with a dog who owns and controls the family.

American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben. Excellent 1000 plus page collection of the best environmental writing, complied by one of the finest and most prolific current environmental writers. This volume includes well know writers like Abbey, Leopold, and Kingsolver, as well as lesser-known authors such as Robert Marshall, Jane Jacobs, and Rebecca Solnit. It includes the works of at least half a dozen poets, a couple ex-presidents, a former Supreme Court justice, a former governor, songwriters, photographers, and a cartoonist. I really appreciate McKibben's editorial skills and his own opinions. For example in the introduction to Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," McKibben writes, "Were I in charge of such matters, it could alternate weeks with "America the Beautiful" as our national anthem. Great idea! It's past time that we replaced our current bloody and war-glorifying national anthem with a song that shows some respect for humans who may live in a nation, currently designated as "enemy." We also need a song for national anthem that fits the times we live in, that is an anthem that encourages us to protect the environement, which war and preparartion for war consistenty does not. We also need an anthem that encourages us to resolve our differences with other peoples in a humane, civilized, non-violent manner. Why not follow McKibben's suggestion and use two or three songs for national anthems, or have a national song-writing contest for a new and better anthem, or perhaps several new anthems? In any case, American Earth is an inspiring and timely collection of excellent writings. I need to own this book.

The Madonna Stories by Gary Paulson. A collection of bleak stories by this author who is better known as a three-time winner of the Newbery Honor awards.
I Don't Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges. If there's one non-fiction writer in the US we should be reading, it's Hedges. Ever since War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, Hedges has been turning out important books about the world today. In this title he squashes the arguments of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and others who say there is no God. When you're finished with this book, you will want to also read What Every Person Should Know About War, Losing Moses on the Freeway, American Fascists, and The Ten Commandments in America.

The Pleasures of the Damned by Charles Bukowski. Another sizable collection of poems by this raw, offbeat, and explicit poet who died in 1994. However his poems live on, as energetic, alive,and relevant as if the ink was still wet on the page.
David Sedaris: Live at Carnegie Hall, This recorded reading of short humorous stories by Sedaris whose books/recording have to be placed on hold for months at the Boise Public Library, are not as funny as I expected. It's nice that people are interested in hearing these stories, but as literature they seem weak, and as humor, it's not hard to find funnier material. However these may be popular because they help the listener to see the humorous situations in his/her own life and not take himself too seriously.

The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We can do about it by M. Gigi Durham. An eye-opening look at the way our culture and the media uses girls, young women, and female sexuality to sell products and make money, and the harmful effect this has on women. Durham is a professor of journalism and mass communication at the Univ. of Iowa. She writes that there are five core myths that perpetuate the Lolita Effect. They are: "If you've got it, flaunt it," "The anatomy of a sex goddess," "Pretty babies," "Violence is sexy," and "What boys want." Durham devotes a chapter to each myth pointing out where it repeatedly manifests itself, and the harm that particular myth does, not just to females, but also to males. She also has some interesting things to say about censorship. An excellent choice for young people and adults who care about them.

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews. This is the fourth novel (fifth book) by Toews (rhymes with caves), a Canadian Mennonite novelist. Her novels are about people on the margins of society, nearly dysfunctional, caught up in disintegrating relationships, and too much a part of an unhealthy society. Yet each person is unique, eccentric, likable, and trying hard to survive. Often Taves characters are in some kind of major transition, traveling, moving, abandoning one relationship for another, or simply trying to connect as the Troutmans seem to be doing, although not in any kind of coherent, predictable, or likely to succeed manner. This novel is not as strong nor as funny as her previous one, A Complicated Kindness, which I highly recommend, but if you are a fan of Toews you will want to get acquainted with the Troutmans.

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