Monthly Archives: July 2011

Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

This book called to me a few weekends ago when I was browsing at Tattered Cover in Denver.

I had forgotten my first encounter with Joyce Carol Oates.

When Steve saw what I had bought, he was surprised. He reminded me that I had read his copy of a Joyce Carol Oates novel (neither of us could remember what it was) and had not liked it.

At all.


As it turns out, the offending book was We are the Mulvaneys.

When I told Steve what the book was that I didn’t like, he asked me what I thought of this one. I replied, “I liked it better than the last one.”

Not a rousing endorsement.

Don’t get me wrong. Black Girl/White Girl held my interest. I read it in 2 days.

I found a lot of truths in it about relationships between the races.

I was struck by how unlikeable the black girl of the title, Minette Swift, was.

I liked how the subplot about Genna and her father slowly took over and became the plot.

I found parts of it unreasonably obtuse. There was a little too much mystery and opaqueness surrounding Genna’s memories of incidents during her childhood and her dealings with her parents while at the same time her memories of her time with Minette were crisply focused.

Black Girl/White Girl is not an uplifting book. Nobody in it is or ends up happy.

Yet, all that being said, I’m glad I read it. I guess that means I’d have to give it a thumbs up.

From the back cover:

In 1975 Genna Hewett-Meade’s college roommate died a mysterious, violent death partway through their freshman year. Minette Swift had been assertive, fiercely individualistic, and one of the few black girls at their exclusive, “enlightened” college – and Genna, daughter of a prominent civil defense lawyer, felt duty-bound to protect her at all costs. But fifteen years later, while reconstructing Minette’s tragic death, Genna is forced to painfully confront her own past life and identity . . . and her deepest beliefs about social obligation in a morally gray world.

Black Girl/White Girl is a searing double portrait of race and civil rights in post-Vietnam America, captured by one of the most important literary voices of our time.

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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in American Lit



Very Cool

I’m not a fan of bookless libraries. I like multimedia and no doubt will eventually accept e-books, but I do like libraries with books and I don’t see the need to rid ourselves of books. Call me old fashioned like Maggie Smith’s character on Downton Abbey, “first electricity, now telephones, what’s next?”

The University of Chicago has built a new library and has found an innovative way to store millions of books in a post-modern space. Take a look.

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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Uncategorized



On Monday Juan Williams was on The Daily Show where he explained why NPR fired him after he appeared on Fox News and his comments regarding profiling Muslims were edited to make it seem that he felt fear of them was rational. His story in full explained how he believed the opposite. Even after showing NPR executives the full tape, he was fired.

Now he’s written Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, a book which deals with the NPR firing and current climate in which certain political topics can’t be debated or discussed rationally in public. Ironically, I got an email from NPR with links for items they’re promoting and getting commission from. Muzzled was listed. Hmmm. It just seemed odd. I guess everyone would profit from it, but there wasn’t any text that explained why. He did appear on Diane Rehm’s program and I suppose listening to that would

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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in non-fiction



Grace (Eventually)

In Grace (Eventually) Anne Lamott shares her thoughts and experiences on faith, motherhood, politics, and activism. I felt I got another glimpse into her life in Northern California and I got to know more about her son Sam, her friends like Fr. Tom and Anne herself. It’s like sitting at a kitchen table listening to a witty friend, with whom I sometimes disagree, relate her ups and downs and review her hard times with bad boyfriends, drugs and alcohol that didn’t harden her. (An example of grace, huh?)
I love how honest and perceptive she is. She doesn’t buy the cheap generalities we can be spoonfed. For example, on parenthood she writes

Why did I, like many other single women, many gay men and women, many older women, and many other no-so-obvious parents, people who used to think they could never have kids, choose to do so?

Let me say that not one part of me thinks you need to have children to be complete, to know parts of yourself that cannot be know any other way. People with children like to think this, although if you are not a parent, they hide it–their belief that having a child legitimizes them somehow, validates their psychic parking tickets. they tell pregnant women and couples and one another that those who have chosen not to breed can never know what real love is, what selfishness really means. They like to say taht having a child taught them about authenticity.

This is total crock. Many of the most shut-down, narcissistic, selfish people on earth have children. Many of the most evolved–the richest in spirit, the most giving–choose not to. The exact same chances for awakening, for personal restoration and connection, exist for breeders and nonbreeders alike.

One essay that was especially interesting for me to read was about Anne speaking at a conference in Washington DC. I was at that conference and I was there during this scene. She describes a Q&A session with Richard Rohr, Jim Wallis and Anne. It was going along and then a man asked about Christian progressives and abortion, which he opposed. That was a dramatic moment. Quite tense in fact. Both Rohr and Wallis were fair. They acknowledged how contentious this issue was and that there were too many abortions. Neither stated an opinion on whether it should be legal or not. They were quite diplomatic.

Anne was to as she states and I recall. Then later after taking another question, she returned to the abortion issue and elaborated on how she had had abortions and how she felt they were necessary at this point of her life. It got real tense. She was clearly going out on a limb. She seemed surprised that progressive citizens might not share her beliefs on this. In this book she goes into detail about the experience and how she felt during and after. It is worth reading.

I do recommend Grace (Eventually) as a smart, humorous gift of Anne’s views on life and God. I don’t think one has to be a Northern Californian vegan who has smoked lots of dope to enjoy it. She’s a welcoming writer.

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Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Christianity, humor


Guys Read Website

Hey, know a boy who should be reading more? Stumped how to lead this horse to water? Check out Guys Read, a website designed by author Jon Scieszka to encourage boys to find great books and read them. There’s a lot more than Harry Potter out there.

These books look good. I may read some.

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Posted by on July 26, 2011 in Children's Lit, teen lit, YA



Five Books

Just five, huh? Well, that’s not easy, but I’ll follow the rule to be fast and add a guideline that if it’s been that influential, it’s probably a book I’ve read a few times. Last week I got a novel I thought was wonderful out of the library and when I began rereading it, I thought, “Boy, what’s with all this over done description.”

Here goes:

  1. The Great Gatsby: it’s importance lies in the language, which I’d say is perfect. The story’s compelling too.
  2. Pride and Prejudice: it’s a classic written by a woman and one I can read again and again and still enjoy and find more humor or insight. Each time I read it, I’m delighted.
  3. Catcher in the Rye: I like the jaded, yet sensitive Holden Caulfield. And each time I read it I get more connections between characters and symbollism.
  4. Brideshead Revisited: it’s a perfect book that I’ve read three times. What an amazing understanding of people, society and grace!
  5. The Bible: well, that seems like something people have to throw in if they’re Christians of a certain ilk. I never had a problem with the Bible and I’ve grown up with it, but until recently it was a good book, but not one I’d put on this list. It’s not one I’d read for the heck of it. Yet, I did challenge myself to read it cover-to-cover a few years back and have also met some friends who really know it. As a Catholic school student, I had some required Bible reading but the accent seemed to be on required. Reading it by choice and learning the cross references and Greek translations, has changed how I consider the Bible. Last fall I learned about Habbukuk, a prophet. Whoa, he has a great dialog with God, where he really tears into God. It’s criminal that we bypassed that in Sr. Mary Rose’s class. Even if there isn’t time for everything, make time for Habbukuk, he’s so relevant. Teens would wake up.
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in American Lit, British Lit, Spirituality



The Same Man

I loved this book. It compares and contrasts writers Eric Blair, a.k.a. George Orwell, and Evelyn Waugh.

In The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War the author Deavid Lebedoff presents the childhood experiences that formed each writers’ consciousness. I learned that while Blair’s father was a civil servant and thus the family had less income than Waugh’s the intricate English social system did confer rather high status on the family. Though he needed a scholarship (and was sneered at for this reason) Blair went to Eton, a prestigeous, if not the most prestigeous boarding school in England. This education, though painful at times, left an indelible mark on Blair. In their respective schools Waugh was the bully and Blair the bullied. Lebedoff mentions that someone once said that if you were the bully in school you become a conservative, if you were bullied, a liberal.

Then even more surprising, I learned that Waugh, whose family was more obsessed with social class, who was so enthralled with aristocracy, could not afford Eton or a boarding school of that ilk. He had to settle for school in his town and eventually got into a rather second class version of Eton.

Both writers were born in 1903 and their lives took radically different paths. They subscribed to different belief systems, and their writing achieved success at different points in their lives. Waugh was recognized early on as a writer of great style and wit, whereas Blair started out as a terrible writer and slowly improved to the greatness of his 1984.

The last chapters describe and interpret these authors’ beliefs towards politics, communism, family life, speaking out, and their own writing. It was most engaging. While both men would vote differently, parent differently and pray (or not) differently they shared some common beliefs. They both were skeptical of the modern age and its trust of technology and meritocracy. They believed instinct and character were human’s most important attributes and were leary of a society, like ours, where high SAT scores and such determined our leaders. (Though I doubt they’d be thrilled by Bush.) They saw that intellect without character led to great troubles.

I was inspired to learn that Blair wrote while sirens went off during air raids. What excuse to I have to neglect my writing?

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Posted by on July 24, 2011 in British Lit, non-fiction



Norwegian Wood

Written by Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite writers, Norwegian Wood tells us the story of a Japanese college student, Watanabe, who’s drifting along amidst the rebellion of 1960’s Japan. He sees the flaws in their ideology and their activism and keeps his distance from this movement.

He gets involved with his now deceased best friend’s girlfriend Naoko and with Midori, a college student he meets at a restuarant. Like all Murakami’s novels, this reads smooth and jazzy. The characters all stand outside the mainstream and observe, comment and try to live in a different, better, rather lyrical or perhaps listless way. None of the relationships are clear cut or easily defined.

The New Yorker often prints his short stories and this link has a few which will give you a taste of his style: Murakami’s Short Stories

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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


The Importance of Being Earnest

This month’s book club selection: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

Another farce? Yep, the third.


It’s a quick read and funny, but I know I’ve read this play before and it’s not worth a second reading. There are lots of quips that have made it into the vernacular and have stayed so seeing them is like seeing an old friend. It’s the story of two friends who fall for women who can only love a man named Earnest. There’s some lies and mistaken identities, familiar tropes of the genre, that move the story along.

It’s very much like eating cake, sugary cake. I can appreciate the work involved in creating it and I can see that it’s pretty, but I can also see that it’s not all that worth consuming.

I got Masterwork Studies: The Importance of Being Earnest, A Reader’s Companion to find some extra insights that might make me like the play more. Well, I learned that some critics see this as being a great farce and defend that genre (‘cuz face it, it needs some defense). When the play was first produced, it was considered experimental and daring. Now it isn’t. Time does that.

Given the cost of going to a stage play, I wouldn’t bother seeing it performed. a classic checked off the list.

Next month we read Pygmalion.

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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in British Lit, classic, play



I Love WordPress

I had a layout problem with this blog design and tinkered with fixing it to no avail. Yesterday I posted my problem on the WordPress forum and voila! it’s fixed.

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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Uncategorized