Friday, August 18, 2006

On My Nightstand and In My Bookbags

Inspired by a series of posts by my favorite autodidact, here's a look at what I'm reading or just read or want to read soon. I went to page 18 of each book and picked the first complete sentence for a quote.

Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time
, by Katha Pollitt

A major studio is ready to greenlight the minute your offices comes through with co-financing.

The quote's from a snarky and insightful essay on faith-based initiatives. A big thank-you to Caitlin Flanagan and Linda R. Hirshman for indirectly leading me to this sharp, intelligent writer through Pollitt's funny essay on them (Mommy Wars, Round 587). While on the library request list for Virginity or Death!, I went ahead and read Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism, which was published in 1995. How come I've never heard of this before? It's funny, it's smart, and a couple of the pieces are so wonderful that I want to buy the book so I can read them again. Amazingly, many of Pollitt's essays are also available for free online,
at The Nation.

Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, by Linda R. Hirshman

I have dubbed this watered-down version of feminism choice feminism.

This came up on my request list at the same time as Virginity or Death!, and I find Pollitt a much better writer and thinker, so despite the fact that I want to do a blog review of Hirshman's book, I've put it on the back burner (hmm, Hirshman would no doubt sneer at such a housewifely metaphor). I will note that for a $19.95 hardcover book (which my library bought with my taxes), I expected more than 94 pages of text. And I'm not buying the quality vs. quantity argument here, either: what I've read just isn't that good, or that different from what Hirshman's written online.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

Of course, the basic story of of Dracula has been hashed over many times and doesn't yield much to explanation.

This was my book club's summer selection - we didn't meet in July and so we had two months (which we needed) to devour Kostova's 642 page opus on Vlad the Impaler and Romanian history and modern libraries and historians. I liked The Historian a lot, even as I was seriously annoyed by some of it. One of the best reviews I ran across was here, by the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, though one of the things that made this book such a literary bestseller last summer was its deliberate lack of trashiness. It was also fascinating to us Ann Arbor-Dexter-Saline-and -assorted township inhabitants, because Kostova is a local author who made the bigtime after years of obscurity. She mentioned in one interview that her favorite at Zingerman's was macaroni and cheese, which made us want to go there and sample it. It may be overpriced (would you pay $47 for a coffee cake, no matter how good?), but I have a feeling it's a lot better than Kraft dinner.

Sing a Song of Tuna Fish: Hard-To-Swallow Stories from Fifth Grade, by Esmé Raji Codell

The toys they sold were pretty good: bubbles, dolls as tall as I was, toy cash registers, doctor's kits with candy pills, and bags of little plastic dinosaurs that my brother liked (you could also get army guys or farm animals if you preferred).

I got this partially for myself, and partially to check out for my soon-to-be fourth grader. It is a memoir of Chicago circa 1979, and the sentence above is about Woolworth's, an old-fashioned five-and-dime that has largely been replaced by a combination of Target and dollar stores. It looks like an absolutely delightful read.

Nature in the Neighborhood, by Gordon Morrison

On a flat gravel rooftop, near the ball field, the nighthawks are raising two chicks.

I've been checking out children's nature books for an article I'm writing, and this was highly recommended. And rightly so, as it is exquisitely illustrated and a perfect antidote to the "nature only occurs in exotic, unspoiled places" theme that is so prevalent in both juvenile and adult books and videos. How often have you seen trash on a curb next to melting snow in a nature book? Or milkweeds growing in abandoned lot, sheltering cottontails and providing food for monarchs? It made me think of nuthatch's remarkable posts - with incredible photographs - of Detroit's urban prairies (here and here).


Sandy said...

So I have two very dissimilar books here - the hefty Historian comes to about four cents per page, and Hirshman's manifesto is about 21 cents a page. I think manifestos ought to be more reasonably priced if they're meant to reach lots of people. On the other hand, Hirshman is only addressing a small percentage of upper class women, so maybe that makes the price appropriate? I wonder if there will be a paperback edition, and how much it will be.

Sandy said...

By the same measure, though, children's hardcover books (like Nature in the Neighborhood) are shockingly overpriced. But the illustrations (in this case, anyway) add incalcuable value.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Sandy _please_ post your favorite children's nature books. I am building up our collection & would love recommendations.

We just got "Apples to Oregon" & my 4-year-old loves it.

I am interested in Oregon's habitats in particular : )

Sandy said...

I'm working on a blog version, Jennifer. :-) Look for it in a week or so.