My Trip to Atlanta – Part One

September 11, 2016 at 5:27 pm (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

IMG_1269.JPGMy trip to Atlanta was exhilarating. I navigated two airports, a train system, and bus routes – all things I have not done in a long, long time.  I learned about five square miles of a city I’d never been to by walking.  Sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because I was hopelessly lost.  Traveling with a flip phone in a smart phone society is a whole different ball game than traveling an unknown city in the days of payphones and paper maps. People saw me holding a real map and not utilizing GPS and there was much commentary, and confusion by others on how to read it as it doesn’t flip itself around and identify your location for you.  Even now, the word processor is telling me that the word payphone can not be pluralized.  (When did that become a thing?)  But I’m fairly certain there’s no other way to describe more than one.

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My Pet Rock. I patted it every day on my walk to the AmericasMart.

I was pretty excited about the MARTA rail system.  I’ve missed riding the rail since I moved from Dallas. Public transportation, once the stop points are identified and times committed to memory, are so much more relaxing than driving.  I like being able to read on daily commutes, I like the safety of not risking car crashes.  I like knowing that if I begin my journey at such-n-such time I am guaranteed to arrive at my destination at another specific time – down to the minute.  Atlanta excels at this. The bus route, however, is a whole other ballgame that got me pretty flustered.  The buses sort of arrive when they feel like it, the stops are relative, and the entire route based on the driver’s mood.

Everyone is very polite, though, even when they are offering you drugs.  I thought, as a Texan, that I understood southern hospitality.  When it comes to Good Mornings, sweet smiles, and a general attitude of helpfulness – we’ve got nothing on Georgia.  Any half puzzled look on your face will immediately result in someone stopping to help.  Stand at a stop too long and someone will inevitably ask you which bus you’re trying to catch and inform you, “Oh sometimes that driver likes to stop on that side of the street, be sure you check over there too or you might miss it.”  Smiles abound, even in the early morning pre-coffee grog.

I went to Atlanta to work the Wordfire Press booth at DragonCon. Convention people are exactly what I expected, after doing Comicpalooza and OwlCon in Houston, it’s pretty much the same routine, just bigger and takes up the whole downtown area instead of one convention center.  But outside the realm of the Con, everything was incredibly foreign.  I felt like I had stepped into how I imagine the 1950’s in a lot of ways, and once three blocks away from the convention hotels and gathering areas, I’ve never been reminded so often of how white I am. Politely, but with bafflement.

Houston is a melting pot. Our segregation occurs on the socioeconomic level, rather than a race level.  Latinos, Blacks, and Rednecks all live next to each other as long as they belong in the same tax bracket.  I didn’t see a lot of Atlanta, but I got the sense that things aren’t that way there.  So many times I was asked, “What’s a white girl doing on this street? You lost?” Or, the most bizarre, “Why you so comfortable talking to a black man? Is your husband black?”  At that question I retorted, “Should I be scared of you?”  “No, but these other niggers around here are cut-throat. You need to watch yourself.”  I felt like a child being reprimanded for not knowing the rules, especially when literally everyone I talked to was so very kind.  Yet, there I was a block the other side of Five Points, getting questioning glances from people who thought I was too pale to tread on their turf.  “You lost, baby? You don’t belong here.”  Or when I went to The Underground below the wrong CVS: “No, honey, you shouldn’t be down here, go up and get back to Peachtree as quick as you can, that’s where your people are,” before I even mentioned I was trying to meet anyone.

The whole experience was eye-opening and disheartening.  I enjoyed every conversation I had, even the fellow who offered me crack was very polite and concerned, keeping his distance when addressing me.  Is all of Atlanta that way, or just those neighborhoods?  Why was everyone so separate?

In my perfect world, I want to notice how much darker your skin is than mine. I want to acknowledge that freckles on you look entirely different than freckles on me. Deep, dark skin catches my eye, as a prisma color artist I am enthralled by skin tones that involve so many undertones of purple.  I want to listen to deep, milky voices bellow soul music, and that be ok. I don’t mind you calling me “white girl” but if I describe you as a black man or woman, I would like for you to not be offended.  We are different in so many beautiful ways.  To say we don’t see color is a disservice to the amazing people God created, like not noticing the difference between a sapphire and an emerald.  But we are also both human, we have troubles and trials, we have cultures we sometimes share and sometimes don’t.  I’ve never been so grateful to have grown up in Houston, where we all live side by side, work together, grow together, and learn together.  Houston has its own problems for sure, but I think we all have a cohesive love for our city and for Texas that keeps us pretty united.

I hope to visit Atlanta again.  I hope to branch out farther and see what the city as a whole is truly like, as opposed to the downtown areas I was restricted to for the duration of my stay. It has so many lovely parts and many beautiful people.

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Philip K. Dick and Me

April 23, 2015 at 7:48 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

UnknownA friend asked on Facebook today: I’ve not read much Science Fiction. What is your favorite and why?

I answered:
I’m currently on a Philip K. Dick kick. His stuff is considered classic in the genre, has been made into several films, and he’s got some pretty awesome social commentary and religious themes going on. His characters usually deal with hallucinations, drug use, and some sort of religious/emotional/existential crisis in the midst of futuristic dystopias and post-apocalyptic worlds. I adore him.

That’s the simple answer, I suppose. Unless I were a 19 year old boy and then I’d merely say something about of the blatant drug use references.

I suppose my answer makes me sound like an ignorant and pretentious prick. It’s ok, I’ve come to terms with my lot in life – I sound like a snob, but I will never be brilliant.

I say I’ve come to terms, but that’s a lie…

I find myself having a love affair with Philip K. Dick. He invites me to futures I forgot to think about, makes me feel nostalgic for certain versions of the past. He has forty something novels and I’m only reading my third one… all I want to do is talk religion with the old coot.

Eleanor Roosevelt said something along the lines of great minds talking about ideas, average minds discussing events, and weak minds focusing on people… but I could talk about Philip K. Dick all day. I’d like to think it’s because I like his ideas.

He has me wanting to dive into religious theory, social philosophy, and everything else – all the IDEAS behind it all. I want to read literary criticism on all his work. I suddenly want to get high. With him. I’ve never gotten high or even wanted to in my whole life. Good thing the dude is dead, I might weasel my way into an opportunity to kill my clean record if he weren’t. As it stands, I’m safe.

He’s genre sci fi, but it’s not about the science fiction, I don’t think.

I will never write anything so well.

I have a young friend who likes Dick. For all the drug use, naturally.

“Is that your real answer or your 19-year-old answer?”
“Both,” he responded, “Why am I being interrogated?”

He wasn’t. He was, I suppose. I just really wanted to know if everyone else had the same draw to him in the same way I did. They have to, or else he wouldn’t be reprinted so often. Why aren’t we reading him in school alongside 1984 and Brave New World?

Philip K. Dick is so much more than drug induced rantings, and drug-love. It’s possible he was certifiably insane – I don’t know yet – but clearly that appeals to me. If Hunter S. Thompson and C.S. Lewis had a love-child, it could have been Dick.

I’m not equipped for proper commentary beyond that. My one lament in life is that I see glimpses of great ideas but cannot grasp or define them. I have been surrounded by so many brilliant minds my whole life and have never had one myself.

I watched The Theory of Everything and nearly cried. Selfishly. It was not because of Hawking’s trials, or the good fight his wife put up, or any of that. I found myself scribbling:

So many bright minds – brilliant ones – and mine will never be so bright or brilliant. I can study and train and absorb everything I can get my hands on and I will still hit a wall. A wall of sheer lacking…

Of brightness.

Of brilliance.

Of creativity and understanding.

Of not enough.

I am no Steinbeck. I am no Einstein.

I am no G.K. Chesterton or Ayn Rand. Or Philip K. Dick.

Not even close.

I went to the library and read through Magill’s various commentaries that were available.“Wherever they are set, most of Dick’s novels are grounded in the clutter and trivia, the mundane cares and joys, of everyday life,” the Survey of AUnknownmerican Literature said.

Because I’ve read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and The Penultimate Truth and am currently reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I felt I was equipped enough to at least see what other people have to say about him. I found people saying things I had already discovered, Dick is focused on how empathy is what makes us human, he thinks everyone lies and that we are all a little too gullible, in his life he maintained a “persistent skepticism” with an “equally strong yearning to believe.”

Yes. Yes. Yes.

ThePenultimateTruth(1stEd)Critics also say that you can’t get his life’s running theme from just one book. You must read at least ten or fifteen. Clearly, I got that memo from the abyss as well, because the second I’d gotten half way through one I was already on a mission to select more. Not for the science fiction, not for the stories, but for Dick’s truth. “Dick is fascinated by forgeries and coincidences.”

Me too.

I doubt my own identity as well. Both spiritually and here in the world. I have defined myself over and over again so scrupulously that at the end of the day I often wonder if I have lied to myself.

Is this who I am or who I’ve chosen?
Is there a difference between the two?

We are gullible, we are easily deceived.

Yes we are.
As am I.
People have told me over and over again what a contradiction I am. A hopeless romantic wrapped in the armor of a cynical skeptic. I trust too quickly, and dismiss at the drop of a hat.P1030684

My favorite thing about reading Philip K. Dick is how he has laid out all the turmoils of my soul into genre fiction. When I ask others what their favorite part is, it is because I want to know if we have similar turmoils. If it is merely the human condition…? If we are kindred spirits? Or if I am alone.

Ultimately, I always just want to know if I am alone.

I am 31 years old. I should be over this by now.  But those damn empathy boxes really got to me.

For a cool article, go here: http://boppin.com/1995/04/philip-k-dick.html

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Adventures of an Independent Bookseller

August 25, 2014 at 11:52 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

kings-englishTitle: The King’s English
Author: Betsy Burton
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Genre: Books on Books
Length: 302 pages

In 1977, Betsy Burton opened a little independent bookstore in Salt Lake City, Utah. The rest is history, captured elegantly and passionately within the pages of The King’s English, a book named after the store it chronicles.

I love books about books and bookstores.  Burton’s passions speak of my own as she details the pleasures of getting the right book into the right hands at the right time.  She breaks up chapters with lists upon lists of must haves for people searching specific genres or moods.  She tells the tale of a store’s life blood, its employees, customers, and ultimately all the people who have made it the world renown establishment it has become.

The store has been molded by dreams, authors, legal battles, and the patrons who have kept walking through the doors.  The book industry, American history, and religious nuances of Utah have shaped what TKE has – through time – chosen to stand and fight for.  It’s been a beautiful life, and to this day it continues through politics, economics, and the ever changing publishing practices.

I loved every minute of it, every word, and I’m a little ashamed to say that a few other titles were put on the back burner for this reading whim when they deserved my full attention.  The experience has been fulfilling and the store has now been added to my places to visit before I die.  Even more fulfilling would be to see one of my own books perched on their shelves, knowing what great care they go into selecting their inventory.

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People Aren’t Who They Say They Are

April 12, 2014 at 1:42 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

The most offhand statement, the smallest turn of phrase, a random word, can completely start my mind reeling for hours, days even.

A friend said to me, about nothing and no one in particular, “People aren’t who they say they are,” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  As much as I try to let things roll off my back, I internalize and mull over everything and this statement today relates so well to a piece of fiction I started long ago.  In addition to that, about a dozen short story ideas popped into my head from the one phrase.

lieIt’s not a new revelation, it’s been the case since the dawn of time: people lie. And more than anything else, people lie about themselves.  Just watch an episode of “House.”

The thought that won’t leave me, though, is not that people lie, it’s that people don’t think they’re lying.  People aren’t who they say they are, but they are only capable of telling you who they think they are.

I can only tell the truth as I see it. I can only tell you what’s in my head, not what you perceive of my actions. Isn’t this why people read novels? In third person omniscient you get everyone’s version of the truth – and how very different it can look.

The Ugly Duckling kept telling everyone he was a duck, but in reality he was a swan.  He wasn’t who he said he was, but he was saying who he thought he was.

Along this line of thought, many novels and their characters come to mind: The Great Gatsby, The Fountainhead, the Harry Potter series, The Poisonwood Bible, and many, many more. But currently, what is most fresh in my mind is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

a tree growsThe book is about Francie Nolan, a bright, young, dreamer in a poor neighborhood at the turn of the last century. Her father, Johnny Nolan, however, is the focus of this discussion.

Francie’s father, Johnny is a talented, sweet, and incredibly handsome, alcoholic. He dreams and wastes away while his wife takes care of the family. He knows he’s a drunk, he thinks he’s useless and has nothing to offer, and his wife comes to a point where she believes this as well. Afterall, he has let her down over and over again with his failures. The only thing he seems to manage is to sing well and entertain his neighbors and friends.

Though he’s not conventionally a good man of the house, and is an awful care giver when it comes to providing food and rent money, but when it comes down to the children’s emotional needs he is there where his wife is not.

Francie’s mother admittedly doesn’t love Francie as much as she loves the son, Neeley. Francie’s mother sends the children to get their inoculations alone – the young kids were terrified and had no loving support from their mom. But she loves them best, right? She cares for them, keeps a roof over their head, and keeps them fed.

Clearly, both parents love their children the best they know how, that much is evident in the novel, but both parents are also not who they say they are – but they say exactly what they think they are.

Johnny meant what he said when he told Katie he would love her forever, that she was the one for him. He didn’t realize when he said it that he wouldn’t know what to do with himself once he became a father of two at age 20. He didn’t know what he was made of yet, or what he wasn’t made of.

A man like Johnny is a great babysitter, the best man to have on a family vacation, a little girl’s knight in shining armor. He will walk her to school, help her get into the school of her choice, because he’s a dreamer and by God he will teach his daughter that her dreams are relevant and important.

Johnny thinks he’s the worst father. He is dejected by his inability to hold down a job other than one as a singer/waiter, singing and bringing food and drinks for tips. He’s Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” had the man never managed to invent something and find Truly Scrumptious. [Completely random side note: Did you know “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was based on an Ian Fleming story (the author of the James Bond novels)?] An airheaded dreamer, but ultimately a good person with a big heart.

In Francie’s eyes, Johnny isn’t who he says he is – or even who other people say he is – but everyone says who they think he is, including himself.

“Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard. She was the bitter quarrels she had with her brother whom she loved dearly. She was Katie’s secret, despairing weeping. She was the shame of her father staggering home drunk. […] She was all of these things and of something more.”
– Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ch. 8

Maybe if Johnny hadn’t started to believe that he had to be so ashamed, he wouldn’t have had so much to be ashamed of. Maybe if he’d let go of some of those bad thoughts and acted on the dreamy happy ones, life would have been better for everyone. The character of Johnny Nolan is a complete disappointment to everyone. I haven’t finished the book, yet. I’m not sure how it all turns out, but I do know one thing: Johnny may be a disappointment, but he isn’t useless no matter how much he thinks and says it. He isn’t who he says is his, but he definitely says what he thinks he is.

Obviously, that’s probably a reverse scenario than what is typical of that statement. Most people present themselves as better than what they are, I think. But unless you’ve been utterly broken, it’s highly likely that you think you’re better at things – at life – then others will believe or know.

Maybe it’s because they don’t see every aspect of your life, maybe it’s because you’ve had to shield yourself from truths that hurt too much, maybe you’re a little delusional, but I believe less and less that the majority of humanity is blatantly lying with purpose. The people I have met who do, are manipulative and underhanded and typically have large groups of people fooled, but these people are few.

Then again, maybe I see the world through rose colored lenses. Maybe Johnny Nolan is a useless piece of crap of a human, and I just only see the good in fictional characters. Sort of a difficult idea to embrace from such a self-proclaimed skeptic.  And maybe this is the worst piece of literary criticism and character analysis ever to come out of someone who pretends to understand literature so well.  But as we know, people aren’t who they say they are.

 

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Literary Journal Monday – Mapping My Mind

March 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I am not ADD, but my mind is often many places at once. It goes and goes… it races… it is unstoppable.

hungerI’ve been reading Hunger by Michael Grant.  It’s one of my niece’s books – the second in a series she introduced me to.  No, that’s not how I want to start this post – is it?

I was craving a little bit of dystopian society literature after reading Herodotus.  My brain spinning in a circular momentum about democracies, oligarchies, and dictatorships.  Darius and then Xerxes tyrading around ancient lands building the Persian Empire.  A thousand utopian and dystopian variations of all societies throughout history – a million possible outcomes for our modern world – twisting about in my mind.  Conveniently, it was at this moment that a trailer for the movie Divergent came on and I thought, “It’s about time I read Veronica Roth.”

Cue discussion of autism I’ve been having on and off with people since reading Not Even Wrong written by Paul Collins. Collins is an amazing author and obscure historian. Still suffering from story hangovers from Divergent and the movie Tonight You’re Mine (all about instantaneous human connections) – I found myself thinking about my niece’s Gone series.

Set in a town in California, all the kids fifteen and under have been left in a supernatural bubble – all adults over puberty have vanished, leaving kids and babies to fend for themselves and create a new government. Not unlike Lord of the Flies, different factions have formed. One is under the leadership of Sam Temple, another under his half brother Caine (the biblical implications of Caine and Abel not to be lost on readers, of course). Sam and his new girlfriend, Astrid, are two of the oldest left behind. They have formed a parental union for the younger kids, caring for all the helpless, including Astrid’s autistic brother.

Like bumper pool – or pinball, if you missed out on the bumper pool phenomena – the synapses in my brain spark and twitch and leap bringing me back to Paul Collins/Not Even Wrong/ McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. Then, I find myself thinking, “Goodness, it’s Literary Journal Monday.

tonight you're mineTonight You’re Mine still echoing in my gut (I’m pretty sure I love that movie far more than what is considered healthy or normal), I veer toward the London Magazine when selecting my Literary Journal Monday feature. (Tonight You’re Mine is set in Scotland – not England, but for an American like me, it is the closest I can get in Literary Journals once I mentally cross the pond.)

London Magazine February/March 1981 Vol. 20 Nos. 11 &12

The Private Letters of Tennessee Williams and a piece on Gore Vidal catch my eye. I flip through the first few ads, the table of contents, then stop dead on a heading: FINAL REMINDER.

“If we are to survive the next issue we need 1,000 new subscribers or their equivalent, and we need them immediately […]”

P1010303My reading screeches to a halt and I turn to the shelf. Were there more? Did they have to cancel the magazine? Did they get their 1,000 readers? Ah, sigh, they survived. At least until 1989 where the collection at the bookstore stops. So clearly, they got their 1,000. I wonder who these 1,000 were and if this final reminder is what provoked them to officially subscribe. Or were they friends and family of existing subscribers, terrified their favorite magazine would cease to exist if they didn’t recruit others to love what they loved?

My thoughts have veered so far off track that I forget what I was reading altogether. I flip through the journal in my hand trying to grasp the reason I had sat down to look at this in the first place.

It’s March. St. Patty’s Day is coming up. Irish authors keep popping in and out of my mind. Ireland… Scotland… Tonight You’re Mine… music… poetry… Derek Mahon, an Irish poet’s name blinks at me from the page of the literary journal in my hand. Literary Journal Monday, of course. I read the poem “The Elephants” first. I love elephants. Then my eyes skip over to “April in Moscow” and I read “Spring burst into our houses…” It does, doesn’t it? Just bursts right in and none too soon. At the end of the poems there is an ad for the Poetry Society Bookshop at 21 Earls Court Square in London. I wonder if it is still there.

If they do still exist, I bet they have a copy of Lang Leav’s Love & Misadventure. I’m dying for a copy. Leav has been speaking to my soul lately. Misadventures stuck in the cogs of the mind of a woman turned 30.

A line from Grant’s book swings into full view of my mind’s eye:

“He buried his face in her hair. She could feel his breath on her neck, tickling her ear. She enjoyed the feel of his body against hers. Enjoyed the fact that he needed to hold her. But there was nothing romantic about this embrace.” – pg. 21

There rarely is when a hug is really needed. It’s that moment Leav writes about…

When words run dry,
he does not try,
nor do I.

We are on par.

He just is,
I just am
and we just are.

– Lang Leav

The lack of selfishness between the characters at this point is refreshing in fiction and real life.

In a 2014 American Society of infantile adults who never learned to fend for themselves and work hard without constant praise, we are fascinated by literature and movies where children and teens are forced to grow up overnight and be adults.

It’s sad when the idea of fifteen-year-olds co-leading a community and making wise, unselfish decisions for themselves and each other sounds absurd and fictional. My associative mind leaps back to all the ancient history I’ve been studying, back to the likes of King Tut – pharaoh at age nine – dead by nineteen, married somewhere in between.

We believe in responsible marriages like the Romans, but we chase telepathic connections like the Greeks. What a very convoluted and contradictory way to live – the reality of a dystopian society is that every society is a dystopia – even a society of one. Our minds are everywhere and nowhere. Of course we are in conflict.

I suppose you Literary Journal Monday followers got a little more than you wanted. I bit off more than I could chew today. I attempted to map my own mind and identify all the associations and patterns, leaving myself somewhat exhausted from chasing whimsies.

At least I got to spend a few stolen moments in this room…

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Eden’s Outcasts – A Review

March 10, 2013 at 9:18 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

January 2013 079Title: Eden’s Outcasts

Author: John Matteson

Genre: Biography/ History

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Length: 497 pages

I knew I wanted to read this book the first time I saw it at Jill’s Books in The Woodlands a few years ago.  I have loved Louisa May Alcott all my life and in the last few years I’ve really started to enjoy the art of the biography.  My best friend bought it for me on the spot because she is one of those beautiful people who doesn’t think people should be denied their bookish desires.  It wasn’t until March (a novelization of the younger years of Marmee and Mr. March) was chosen for the HPB Humble Book Club that I actually committed to sitting down with it in an attempt to understand Brooks’ portrayal of the patriarch.

*Notes about A Family in Debt*

So my review of the biography begins with Bronson Alcott’s astonishing ability to over zealously botch everything he touches.  This trait of Bronson is made overwhelmingly clear around page 181.  By this time in the biography, his utopian commune Fruitlands has failed, he has lost all his manuscripts, the house the family is living in was purchased with his wife’s inheritance, and he has completely disappointed me.  At this point in his life Bronson refused to be employed and takes up an architectural endeavor on Emerson’s land, a building that would be nicknamed “Tumbledown Hall” and “The Ruin.”  For a man portrayed as one so taken with education, he tackled projects with a whole lot of zeal and not nearly enough research.  When he did research, others’ ideas were usually disregarded in order to implement his own innovative plans.  To me, most his plans pretty much always sucked.

On the other hand, Louisa, his daughter, was exceptionally prudent.  She had an intense crush on Ralph Waldo Emerson when she was young, which I find adorable, but never shared the love letters she wrote to him.  Instead, when the crush was over, she burned them, but continued to look up to Emerson as a teacher.  Emerson would be a part of Louisa May Alcott’s life from her birth until his death.

Bronson may have failed in many things during the first half of his life, but his efforts as a father are later a solid testament to home schooling.  Matteson shares on page 182 that

“During her teen years, Louisa received essentially no formal schooling outside the home.  However, reading Dickens with her family, poring over Goethe in Emerson’s library, and scrambling through the woods with Thoreau comprised a unique education in themselves.”

Bronson Alcott, I believe, had some serious issues.  Matteson has the grace to allow you to come to this conclusion on your own before he shares the fact that mental illness did indeed run in the family and that it is likely that both Bronson and Louisa May were manic depressive or bipolar, but that there is no way to know for sure.

Bronson’s worldview was both passionate and skewed.  He established his house at Hillside (a few years before the well-known Orchard House) as an underground railroad station and fought viciously for equal political rights for African Americans.  Then in contradiction to his own actions stated that blond hair, blue eyed people were closer to God and that black men should not be allowed to reproduce.  How these beliefs reside in one human being baffles me.  It reminds me of an observation Bill Bryson made in his book The Lost Continent, where when traveling the United States he identifies a curious contradiction in American culture and race relations.  In the north, Yankees are known for their belief in equality and pretend to make no distinction between black and white in personal treatment and political issues, yet they live very segregated lives and rarely share the same neighborhood.  However, in the deep south, there is a general assumption of hatred between the two groups, but they live side by side as neighbors.

Why such dichotomy?  I find it all rather ridiculous.  In Bronson’s case, he refused to use products made by slaves and destroyed his career on the principle that even black students had a place in his school.  Kudos! But then he thinks something so crass as an idea that black men should be denied their God given right to have children.  Absurd!

I find Bronson entirely too duplicitous.  He insisted on a family commune but almost left his family to a more philosophic way of life.  He was passionate about fatherhood, but made it very difficult for his children to feel worthy of his praise.  He desired a Utopia, but in every action tore what could have been to the ground.  His ease in living off hand outs from the labor of his friends while simultaneously declining anything done honestly through the labor of animals is confusing.  It is no wonder to me that the father figure in Little Women is both absent and idolized.  The fact that Bronson went to such great lengths to have a perfect transcendental family and then refused to accept work when it was offered because he had as “yet no clear call to any work beyond [him]self,” is irritating.  The Alcotts were flooded with debt and Bronson had the means to fix it, but was too busy living in his head.

The greatest contradiction of all is that in the second half of his life he would rectify my horrible opinion of him…

*Notes about An Authoress*

The thing I love most about biographies is the same thing I love about “bookish” books – they provide lists, a more diverse reading experience.  While reading Eden’s Outcasts, the biographer periodically offered reviews and insightful critiques to Alcott’s little known works.  So while reading her biography, I was also led to read specific stories out of A Whisper in the Dark, like Love and Self-Love.  It also led me to desire to seek out a piece called Hospital Sketches.

Matteson continues to offer literary criticism on many of Alcott’s publications and goes into a lengthy discussion of An Old Fashioned Girl.  It is during this portion of the biography that Bronson has redeemed himself as a father in my eyes.  At this point he was quietly living at Orchard House in between traveling and making his money.  His ideals were far less irritating later in life than when he had a poor young family to support, because at this point Louisa’s fame had made the entire Alcott family debt free.  This success and income is also what finally made Bronson a more supportive father who spent many of Louisa’s later years doting on her and praising her success.

This age old story of the parent-child relationship reminds me of a Bill Cosby sketch where he laments his parents as grandparents.

“I’ve never seen such a turn around in all my life […] That’s not the same woman I grew up with; you’re looking at an old person who’s trying to get into heaven now.” (watch the whole sketch here)

In the story An Old Fashioned Girl, Alcott actually praises her father by inferring that,

“Shaw’s offspring would need less reforming if he had given them more of his time and less of an allowance.”

Matteson continues to say,

“Louisa goes to far as to suggest that a well-provided childhood is a hindrance to happiness and achievement.”

This is a much different sentiment than that during the aftermath of Bronson’s failed Fruitlands.  Mostly proud father, but partly opportunist, Bronson wrote, “I am introduced as the father of Little Women, and I am riding in the chariot of glory wherever I go.”  Bronson may have begun to be capable of providing for his wife and family, but only because Louisa made it possible with her fame.

As Matteson picks apart Alcott’s life and novels, he states:

“As is more than once the case with Alcott, the fiction teasingly invites speculation that the surviving facts can neither confirm nor dispel.” – pg. 382

Of her own fame, Alcott said: “I asked for bread and got a stone, – in the shape of a pedestal.”

*What it all Means to Me…*

All in all Matteson’s biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father is the most well-written and thorough biography I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  I hung on every word.

All the detailed family relationships, the well thought out literary critiques, and little factoids like the fact that Louisa was the first Concord woman to register to vote, made the whole book a joy to read.

Above all, I am pleased that Matteson has finally put into words a truth that has been part of my own beliefs since childhood when I first read most of Alcott’s work.  Without reading Matteson’s biography I may have never come to understand a piece of myself and where aspects of my own worldview were initially formed.  It seems that my ideas regarding feminism may be largely attributed to what Louisa imparted to me through her novels, as our views are nearly identical.

Louisa’s ideas call for

“each person, male and female to cultivate his or her talents without regard to sex, so that each may optimally serve the community.”

Matteson also says that

“Louisa remained true to the ideals of her mentor Emerson, who, as William James observed, believed that ‘no position is insignificant, if the life that fills it out be only genuine.’  Louisa was hostile to any limitation on women’s opportunities.  Nevertheless, she would have been mystified by any feminist credo that implicitly valued traditionally masculine pursuits above the conventionally feminine.” – pg. 419

Whether you want to be a doctor or stay home and bake pies, male or female – just do it well.

I could not agree more.

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The Price of Excellence

February 20, 2013 at 4:20 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have a love/hate relationship with education.  Or should I say formal education.

I love to read, I thoroughly enjoy research.  But most my teachers over the years would tell you I was a horrible student, if they even remember me.  My work was typically mediocre, often done at the last minute.  The ones that do remember me probably remember a fairly obstinate and argumentative irritant, not really someone you want filling out your back row.

EducationI went to a very expensive private university.  Between the severe debt it put me in and the obsession with appearances, it left a really bad taste in my mouth.  I think in many cases, college is pretty useless these days.  It doesn’t really prepare you for anything, merely gives you four years to either party a lot or exhaust yourself with work – depending on your financial situation.  I feel betrayed by universities and the entire education system.

Yet, I find myself longing for the chance to go back and get a frivolous Master’s degree.  I watch movies only to be wooed by the montages of students in glorious libraries.  I fall in league with nerds like Rory Gilmore and Felicity Porter and lean toward books like May Sarton’s The Small Room.

The Small RoomThe Small Room is a 1960’s novel about a professor teaching in a woman’s college called Appleton.  Don’t judge too quickly, it is most definitely NOT Mona Lisa Smile.  Instead it is a social commentary of the very tender and sometimes volatile relationship between teachers and students, and how an entire campus reacts to the scandal of the theft of intellectual property.

Rather than an emotional feminist vs. anti-feminist story one would expect from the setting, The Small Room is about exploring the many nuances of excellence in education… and the price of obtaining it for both teachers and students.

“What is the price? […] The price is eccentricity, maladjustment if you will, isolation of one sort or another, strangeness, narrowness.  Excellence costs a great deal.” – Carryl Cope of Sarton’s The Small Room.

Frankly, education is such a moving and sensitive topic.  Who isn’t brought to tears by Dead Poet’s Society? Who doesn’t stand and applaud Mr. Holland’s Opus or The Emperor’s Club? Who doesn’t watch Finding Forrester on repeat?

Then on the counter balance… Who doesn’t laugh their butt off reading Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase and acknowledge how utterly familiar it sounds?

Wellesley_College_Tower_Court

While reading, I imagined Appleton to be a smaller version of Wellesley.

May Sarton’s The Small Room is delightful and truthful.  Without full on hating on education altogether, it takes into careful consideration the heavy weight being a teacher or a student can be on a human being and their relationships.

“[…] before she went to sleep, she wondered whether just this were not what you did take on if you chose to be a teacher… this, the care of souls.” – The Small Room

I have a 1976 Norton Library edition (featured above) and I fell in love with the book immediately.  Long before I picked it up to read it, Sarton’s novel was part of my personal collection.  I remember being so struck by the green leafy cover, the musty smell, and the promise of imaginary academia while holding the book in the used bookstore.  The novel has lived up to the promise of its cover (and its smell!) and I think any alumni or teacher would appreciate the ethical discussions within its pages as Sarton and her characters attempt to define the price of excellence.

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Happy Birthday Pride & Prejudice

January 28, 2013 at 11:24 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Jane

“[…] Jane Austen is the greatest writer ever – because she was the first storyteller to make me care about an old-fashioned love story.”

Adam Jones

I have to say, I think Jane Austen is one of the greatest writers ever, but not because she was the first to make me care about old-fashioned love stories.  I always liked those.

In fact, the first time I read Pride & Prejudice I was too young to catch all the subtle things that make Austen great, I think.  I read the book because I thought Emma was funny. It’s easier to recognize the humor in Emma, P&P takes a few more reading years under your belt. At least it did for me.

What is so awesome about Jane Austen is that shallow readers may enjoy the romantic notions of it all (hence loving the books in elementary school when I was devouring them along side Anne of Green Gables) and still have more to offer as you age.  The greatest of writers can be enjoyed by the young and reveal themselves over time with multiple readings. I think I was twelve or thirteen before I realized that most of Austen’s work is pure satire and subtle hilarity.

The first sentence in the book- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”- proves to be a reversal of the truth (Austen 1). Instead, it is the women who seek a husband of good fortune, and attempt to gain his favor. These small reversals show Austen’s mastery of the language, and imply that what is often generally accepted and thought of is simply a fantasy.  – Jackson Pollock

Even though I adore the Bronte sisters, the mastery of language and social fantasy Pollock talks about is what makes Austen’s work accessible to a much wider audience. Wuthering Heights is all dark secrets and emotion, whereas Pride & Prejudice is social commentary, comedy, romance, and more.

Look at Darcy, the most introverted socially awkward geek of all time. The only reason he is considered desirable by such a wide array of women is because he has money and a pretty face.  Without those two things, he would be Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. At least, that’s how I read him. Apparently, I’m not the only one or the movie made in 2005 starring Keira Knightley would have been a bit exasperating.  Instead, it has become a favorite on rainy sick days.

So Happy 200th Birthday Pride & Prejudice and well done, Jane.

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Guest Post by Joey Pinkney

January 25, 2013 at 6:49 pm (Guest Blogger, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been peeking in on Joey Pinkney’s blog for awhile now. It’s a book blog too. We’ve been playing follow-tag on Twitter for ages… you know we follow each other, for whatever reason someone un-follows someone, and then a while later says “Oh Hey, That Person Looks Neat,” and then we’re back to following each other again… I’m sure you’ve played it with a few people too.

So this time I said something about it. The guy is super cool about being pleasantly called out on this game we’ve been playing… a game I only noticed because his profile picture is unmistakable and I genuinely enjoy his posts.

After a little chat, he agreed to guest blog for me. Yay! I love having guest bloggers and doing interviews.  It makes me feel like Oprah.  Meet Joey:

joey-banner

Southern Strife Book Review by Joey Pinkney

Title: Southern Strife

Author: Valerie Stocking

“Southern Strife: A Novel of Racial Tension in the 1960s” is Valerie Stocking’s sophomore effort. The notion of “sophomore slump” does not apply. This novel is a powerful portrayal of America’s not-so-distant history in dealing with the false concept of this country being a melting pot.

“Southern Strife” is refreshingly offensive. I say that because Valerie Stocking sculpted the characters in a realistic manner and not in a way that would fit in a neat, little box. Stocking’s portrayal of racism within the pages of “Southern Strife” is like an honest parent’s portrayal of Christmas. (“Honey, there is no Santa Claus. I bought you those presents under the Christmas tree…”)

The author uses Willets Point as a microcosm of the effects of racism on both black and white people in 1960s America with twelve-year-old Joy Bradford uncomfortably stuck in the middle. With her scotch-loving aunt being one of Willets Point’s key socialites and her narcissistic mother seeking the affections of her divorce lawyer who is also the leader of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter, Joy’s experience with racism is more than casual.

“Southern Strife” is much, much more than a story about racism. There are many points and counterpoints cleverly woven into the fabric of this novel. Coming in at a healthy 435 pages, “Southern Strife” is not a short read. There were a few lulls in the plot here and there, but that is to be expected in a book of this length. The author makes great use of non-linear storytelling. As the time periods ebb and flow, situations become more clear yet more complicated.

Read More.valerie stocking southern strife

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Seed Savers – a series to be treasured

June 8, 2012 at 1:00 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I haven’t been this in love with a young adult series since Harry Potter.  I haven’t been this in love with an individual young adult book since Lois Lowry’s The Giver, unless you count How To Buy A Love Of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson (but her book, though it features a group of teens, is not really for young adults as far as I’m concerned.) I plucked it out of my mailbox, opened it, and read it in one sitting… 221 pages of exciting young adult goodness!  I devoured it, and it was delicious.  Book One of Seed Savers, titled Treasure, is no misnomer.  This book is truly a treasure!

Author S. Smith has written the latest and greatest of young adult dystopian society novels.  In the spirit of the previously mentioned Lowry novel and and Monica Hughes’ Invitation to the Game, Smith has given us solid middle grade tale featuring a new (and somewhat real) futuristic threat – illegal gardening.  It’s yet another great pre-cursor to students preparing to read Orwell’s 1984.  Educators everywhere should be aware of this rising star in children’s literature.

The detailed history of how this society came to be is part of its unique twist.  Most dystopian society stories don’t spend a lot time telling you how it got this way, just that it did and people didn’t notice, the path somewhat alluded to but not specific.  Smith helps point out the steps leading up to this future with factoids that suspciously resemble things that are happening in both the farmlands and corporate America.  From living organism patents made legal in the 1980’s to genetically engineered seedlings, Smith spells out just exactly how this future (though a little outlandish in a society newly obsessed with being eco-friendly in its marketing) could quite possibly go from where it is now to the kind of United States described in the book (corporations and the government in bed with each other making trouble for the little people – Banks, anyone?… in combination with the idea that a government can make a plant illegal – marijuana comes to mind).  Yet, she does this effortlessly, without killing the flow of the story.

I personally love social commentary presented through the art of fiction.  (You like this too? Check out this site: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/371512?uid=3739920&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=56242603693).  I find it compelling and quite frankly the best way to address particular situations that when written about in a nonfiction format becomes an irate rant.  I love the way it personalizes events and characters in a book so quickly, in a way that the average story cannot do.  Get under the skin of an art fanatic… make it impossible for art to be appreciated, collected, loved (if you’re not a reader, check out the movie Equilibrium, then again, if you’re not a reader what’s up with you reading my blog? What brought you here? Leave me a comment.) Tug at the heartstrings of a gardener… attack the very core of their being by telling them in this reality, they can’t have one.

Needless to say, I loved it.  S. Smith, you are brilliant, my dear, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.  This one is going on loan to my nieces and nephews, is getting short listed on my very long list of required reading for my daughter who will one day be homeschooled.  It will be the fun fiction to parallel our botany classes that week, the friendly reminder of why she will be taught to tend her own garden, and perhaps raise a chicken.

Buy Your Copy of Seed Savers Today!

Visit the author’s website here: http://authorssmith.com/

Want to start your own garden (before its too late!), check out Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening tutorial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Lu-7FIj_g

Also for fun, check out this blog: http://www.thisgardenisillegal.com/

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