Friday, December 21, 2007
I'm also reading Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali, by Kris Holloway, and it is simply amazing. I wish I'd heard about this book a year or two ago, because then I could have seen the author when she came to Ann Arbor and talked about her book. It is an especially nice follow-up to The Birth House, which my book club read last month, and reminds me of two great books on Africa by anthropologists: Return to Laughter, by Eleanor Smith Bowen, and Dancing Skeletons, by Katharine A. Dettwyler.
Monday, December 10, 2007
And then I saw what they did to it a generation later:
Why? Why do they do this to perfectly good covers?
Actually, I think I liked the original 1940 cover the best, which just shows a Polynesian tapa-cloth pattern that the author did in a woodcut:
Browsing the author's granddaughter's website, I also learned that Armstrong's brother Paul was the inventor of the Sperry Topsider boatshoe. Huh.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, by Roy Richard Grinker, was a fascinating read. I've read several absorbing, thoughtful books on autism in the past few years (Songs of the Gorilla Nation, by Dawn Prince-Hughes and George and Sam, by Charlotte Moore, most recently), and Grinker's book helped put the others in a larger context. It was kind of like Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire in that respect, which put all the novels and memoirs I've read about the Middle East into a bigger picture, with history and comparisons of the extremes and the differences of Islam (or autism, for Grinker) in different parts of the world.
Grinker has gotten the most publicity for his analysis of the autism "epidemic" (like this Time article), and his argument that improved and broader diagnosis accounts for the startling rise in numbers of people with autism spectrum disorders, but I found his historical and cross-cultural examinations of autism even more compelling. Who would have thought that the stories of Leo Kanner, Hans Asperger, the influence of psychoanalytic theory, and the origins of the DSM would make such interesting reading?
The story of Grinker's daughter and their family's experiences with a school district was both eye-opening and moving, and all too familiar to any parent who has dealt with an IEP for something that confuses and dismays many people.
Thanks to Naomi, who recommended this in her journal here. :-)
Monday, November 12, 2007
Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata, one of the few trees I can identify by the bark) in October.
View from the bedroom window at the end of the day. Yes, it's a blurry picture, it's through the window. If you click and enlarge it's still blurry, but you can see that the sky is absolutely filled with geese. Landing, grazing in the corn stubble, swooping over the house and honking, this has been a fall full of Canadian geese.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Was I was too hard on it? I think my disappointment regarding the difference between the Foreword and the story made me more critical than I might have been otherwise. Regardless, it was one of the least enjoyable Newbery winners I've read so far, out of 24 to date.
I did love the very elegant 1930s drawings, and I think the modern cover sucks in comparison. With all those beautiful black and white drawings - the best part of the book - they go and use this?
Mind you, the original 1938 cover wasn't all that pretty, either. I think they ruined it with the color:
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
My latest favorite internet time suck is the vocabulary game at the Free Rice charity site. It makes those Reader's Digest "Word Power" tests look like the pap they really are.
But I don't think anguine is a level 40 word. I mean, cruciform is in level 45 and it's much easier to figure out (and much more common). I got to 50 last night, but this morning I stalled at 43 on lustrate and ambagious.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Ahoy! The ALA says "Treasure Your Freedom to Read and Get Hooked on a Banned Book" (click on the Banned Books Week logo above for their cool link).
And here's a link to a post I did two years ago for Banned Books Week. I still love Judy Blume.
And speaking of Judy Blume, the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books have an awesome bunch of posts up here in celebration of this week. Deenie gets a B, Go Ask Alice gets an F - fun reading. I'm on the library waiting list for The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler. Maybe I should check out And Tango Makes Three while I'm at it.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Sorry about the lack of pictures for the "housewife 1 on 1." And (presumably), on the other end of a gender continuum, who Googles "my husband is an asshole" and expects advice?
Apparently I'm also the go to blog for people that spell patriarchal as "patriartical". Good to know, thanks StatCounter.
Monday, September 24, 2007
I like the cover on this edition better than the one we have at home. I'm going to buy a nice hardcover edition for my kids (ok, for me really), because we should have this on our shelves.
*edited 9/27/07 to add a link to And Another Thing about A Wrinkle in Time...
Saturday, September 22, 2007
In the last year, I've read all of Pollitt's essay collections (and blogged here about Virginity or Death! and Reasonable Creatures). I enjoy Pollitt's political perspectives and her humor a great deal, but it's her incredible gift for words that really keeps me reading, even when she's writing about a topic that doesn't particularly interest me. The pace, the particular words she picks, the way it all hangs together, often ending with a surprise punch to your gut - it is all very satisfying. And of course it helps that I agree with most of Pollitt's views - it's always nice to find your opinions vindicated by someone who articulates what you were thinking with such color and style.
Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that I was really looking forward to Pollitt's new book, especially when I read that it was mostly material that was not previously published (many of her essays for The Nation can be read online here and since I got hooked, I've been reading the columns and her blog regularly). And not only is this book new stuff, it's more personal than political, which makes it quite different from her previous works.
Some reviewers apparently feel a bit betrayed by this. The most brutal review was by Susan Salter Reynolds in the LA Times, who called the collection "whingeing" and "self-indulgent at best". I don't agree (but do agree when Reynolds says "It must be my problem"); I think that Pollitt's honest and sometimes painful essays about her personal relationships, fears, and aging make for utterly compelling reading.Unlike her previous books, which I picked up and put down, reading an essay every couple of days, I read this one in a day and a half, stealing moments whenever I could find them to read the next piece. It was over all too soon.
Here's a few selections from my favorite parts. On the aftermath of her breakup with a long-term boyfriend, who lived with her for years and apparently slept with numerous other women:
...I would browse the Internet, searching for information about him. Except "browse" is much too placid and leisured a word - a cow browses in a meadow, a reader browses in a library for a novel to take home for the weekend. What I did fell between zeal and monomania. I was like Javert, hunting him through the sewers of cyberspace, moving from link to link in the dark, like Spider-Man flinging himself by a filament over the shadowy chasm between one roof and another. "Are you Webstalking him?" a friend in her twenties asked over coffee. I hadn't known there was a word for what I was doing. (p. 22)
On what people do vs. what they say, and the power and beauty of words:
You think what people say is what matters, an older friend told me long ago. You think it's all about words. Well, that's natural, isn't it? I'm a writer; I can float for hours on a word like "amethyst" or "broom" or the way so many words sound like what they are: "earth" so firm and basic, "air" so light, like a breath. You can't imagine them the other way around: She plunged her hands into the rich brown air. Sometimes I think I would like to be a word - not a big important word, like "love" or "truth," just a small ordinary word, like "orange" or "inkstain" or "so," a word that people use so often and so unthinkingly that its specialness has all been worn away, like the roughness on a pebble in a creek bed, but that has a solid heft when you pick it up, and if you hold it to the light at just the right angle you can glimpse the spark at its core. (p. 31)
As a midwesterner, I loved the insights into New York City and the east coast in general (no strollers in post offices? What are they, crazy?), especially when it came to motherhood and feminism:
And it was feminism that made it an expected, an ordinary, thing for a man and a woman to live together in their own way - they could clean the house together or just let it fall apart. Those were not ideas that you could easily derive from middle-class American family life in the 1950s and 1960s, even a family of Communists like mine. Who owned the means of production - that was nothing, that could change overnight. But who vacuumed, who brought coffee while the other person remained seated, who held forth and who made encouraging murmurs - that seemed set in stone. (p. 171-2)
I hope that people who don't read Pollitt's columns will pick up this memoir - which veers from funny, to touching, to nostalgic, and then back again to funny - and go on to read the rest of her work. As for me, I'll be returning my copy to the library, buying my own hardcover copy, and hoping that Pollitt comes on a book tour to Ann Arbor so I can get her to autograph my book.
Tags: Katha+Pollitt, books, book+review, Learning+to+Drive
Monday, September 17, 2007
The Americans are the grossest feeders of any civilized nation known. As a nation, their food is heavy, coarse, and indigestible, while it is taken in the least artificial forms that cookery will allow. The predominance of grease in the American kitchen, coupled with the habits of hearty eating, and of constant expectorations, are the causes of the diseases of the stomach which are so common in America. -- James Fenimore Cooper, in The American Democrat, 1825 (cited and disagreed with by Frederick Marryat in his A Diary in America, 1839, on p. 30 of the book below).
Just a tidbit from American Food Writing: An Anthology with Classic Recipes, edited by Molly O'Neill. I don't think we can say that modern American cooking is not artificial in form any more (and isn't it interesting that "artifice" is considered a good thing in 1825?), and expectoration doesn't seem to be such a huge problem any more (are they talking about spitting chew? Just spitting?), but we've certainly still got the grease and heavy eating going.
This book is amazing. It's perfect for browsing - over 700 pages of wonderful excerpts from everyone from Thomas Jefferson, H.L. Mencken, Betty MacDonald, Peg Bracken, and David Sedaris to Michael Pollan, organized historically, a with wonderful section of sources and a meticulous index that starts at abalone and ends at Zuni breadstuff.
A lot of my favorite authors are in here. Frederick Douglass talks about ash cakes and hunger, Walt Whitman describes feeding ice cream to wounded soldiers in a Union hospital in Washington, D.C., and Emily Dickinson provides a recipe for her favorite cake. John Steinbeck talks about breakfast. Russell Baker describes franks and beans. Wendell Berry, Raymond Sokolov, Daniel Pinkwater- all here, as well as any famous food writer you can imagine.
The only problem with this book? It's so big that I'm not going to be able to finish it before it's due back at the library. Ah well, I really need a copy of my own to be able to consult whenever I need it. Did I mention that the recipes that interleave the excerpts are historically intriguing, often droolworthy, and that someone with a wonderful sense of graphics and balance arranged these recipes?
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Fossil Park, just south of the Ohio-Michigan border, is a great place to take your kids on a fall weekend. It's free, you get to keep all the fossils you find, and all you need are some buckets and old toothbrushes (and maybe sunscreen, drinking water, and mosquito spray). They supply the fossils (crinoids, tons of different species of brachiopods, horn corals, and some trilobites) from the Devonian seas, portajons, and a couple of friendly college students who are knowledgeable about local geology and ecology.
Even a five year old can break apart the chunks of shale and recognize the shells within, though they may not have the endurance needed to keep going long enough to find a trilobite. Every time we've been there, though, one of the regulars has shared some broken trilobite bits with my enthusiastic ten year old, who in turn shares his knowledge of paleontology with anyone who will listen.
-edited in Aug 2009 to fix the park system's link, and to add that Google Maps doesn't take you to the right location when you enter "Fossil Park, Sylvania, OH" in their search box. The park is located at 5705 Centennial Rd. (just south of where it says "Silica Quarry #1 on the Google Map), down a little gravel road on the right when you're heading south, just past the Mayberry Square stripmall (which is on your left). If you're coming from Michigan, exit US-23 at Sterns Rd. - the last exit before the Ohio border - and take Sterns Rd. to Clark Rd., which turns into Centennial Rd. in Sylvania.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
But then I sold out (see here), and starting taking remuneration - in this case, an amazon.com gift certificate, as well a free copy of the book, from the savvy women at MotherTalk. The first book that came my way was James Patterson's Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. I thought I was pretty well qualified to review this book.
I'm not a literary snob (I love good romance, chick lit., and mysteries), I read lots of current bestsellers, and one of my favorite genres is fantasy/sci-fi. In the last year I've been reading lots of children's and YA selections, reviewing lots of different kinds of kids' books for The Newbery Project. One of the most recent Newbery winners that I read - Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown - reminded me of just how much I like fantasy, and since Patterson's Maximum Ride series is aimed at about the same age group (12 & up), I was really looking forward to it.
Well, if I'd picked this up on my own - perhaps to see if it was appropriate for my ten year old (and it was, for the most part), I wouldn't have bothered with a review. It was just....well, totally (to the max?) mediocre.
I didn't hate this third installment in the Maximum Ride series. I was intrigued by the premise: a group of runaway gene-engineered kids with wings save the world from evil mega-corporation scientists. I actually sought out Patterson's almost-parallel adult book, which I somehow completely missed nine years ago. (Maximum Ride was spun off Patterson's When the Wind Blows).
I didn't finish When the Wind Blows, though. Even the addition of sex didn't make up for a way too-predictable story and clichéd characters. And after reading about half of When the Wind Blows, I definitely felt like Maximum Ride was the better book. During both books, I felt like I was reading one of those X-Files or Star Trek adaptations, with a couple hundred extraneous pages of padding - mostly witty banter and stereotyped descriptions of laboratories. In fact, I can imagine the (proposed) movie, with its cool CGI graphics and nearly non-stop action.
I did enjoy many of Patterson's descriptive passages, and I can see how his writing style would appeal to most teenagers:
Well. If sudden knowledge had a physical force, my head would have exploded right there, and chunks of my brain would have splattered some unsuspecting schmuck in a grocery store parking lot down below. (p. 94)
"Okay, the second they undo us, make sure all heck breaks loose," I said when everyone was awake the next morning - at least I figured it was morning, since someone had turned the lights on again." (p. 115)
But was it really necessary to substitute heck for hell here? I mean, he's talking about evil experiments on children. If you're old enough to read about that, surely h-e-double hockysticks is old hat. Teenagers are supposed to be reading this, not second graders (though I'm sure quite a few second graders know the world hell, too). It grated on me, like many other things in the book.
I couldn't help liking Max, the main character, who was snarky and plucky and strong. But really, she needed some depth. And what's with the two to four page chapters? It makes it easy to put the book down and pick it up again later, but it was the literary equivalent of commercial tv - a book of sound bites.
Furthermore, I'm a little sick of the evil scientist stereotype:
I won't describe the scariest things we saw that morning, 'cause it would depress the heck out of you. Let's just say that if these scientists had been using their brilliance for good instead of evil, cars would run off water vapor and leave fresh compost behind them; no one would be hungry; no one would be ill; all buildings would be earthquake-, bomb-, and flood-proof; and the world's entire economy would have collapsed and been replaced by one based on the value of chocolate. (p. 337)
Do you really think that our world would be perfect if scientists were better people? What about politicians and company wonks and half the people who voted in the last presidential election? Didn't Patterson see Who Killed the Electric Car? Don't go blaming the scientists, people.
Anyway. If I were giving this book a grade, it would get a solid C. I wouldn't discourage any teenagers from reading it - I'm solidly in the "almost any reading is good reading" camp, and there's nothing really offensive in this book, and plenty to redeem it - but there's nothing really great in it, either. Steer your kids to Jumper, by Steven Gould, or Sunshine, by Robin McKinley, either before or after (or instead of) reading Maximum Ride. That's the kind of YA fantasy that's worth keeping on your shelves and re-reading.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Living down here south of I-94, I forget how beautiful it is in the northern part of the mitten. Just a little above where the thumb is attached to Michigan's hand - and definitely above where the fingers separate - the pine trees, the birch trees, and the ferns appear, obvious even when you are speeding by on the interstate. It is cooler and drier and the farms are less frequent, except on Michigan's west coast, where there are beautiful rolling hay fields, patches of corn and pumpkins, and orchards of grapes and cherries.
Things we saw on the drive (not even trying): a flock of wild turkeys crossing the road, a mother deer trailed by a fawn, and two very large-bottomed teenagers on ATVs mooning the highway, who were just down the road from a straw-hatted farmer with three Clydesdales pulling a hay mower.
If you're ever near Charlevoix, I recommend driving south and getting a cherry pie from Royal Farms in Atwood. The pie we got there was as unlike a pie made with canned filling from your grocery store as that really cheap waxy chocolate you get at the dollar store is unlike the good stuff at Zingerman's. I didn't even think I liked cherry pie, and now I wish I'd bought a dozen.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
All pictures taken this July, hands and arms provided by my kids (who also found the caterpillars). If you want more information, check out John Himmelman's A Monarch Butterfly's Life (check out these pictures!), and some of the links at the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project.
Friday, August 03, 2007
My daughter and I had hummus, though, which I don't think would have happened here in the 50's - even in a town with a cooperative farm like Saline Valley Farms. Check that link for some very cool old photographs from 1932-1953.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
I was tagged by Bookworm Julie, who lives a few miles northeast of me. I think these answers are going to make me look very lowbrow, but I'll try to be honest anyway. I read a lot of non-fiction, and I'd love to meet a lot of the people in those books, or the authors, but noooo this is all about literary characters. Or is it possible to have a literary character in a non-fiction work?
1. If you could host a party with 7 literary characters, who would they be and why?
- Cutuk from Ordinary Wolves, because I want to hear about Alaska, and he'd be happy with pizza.
- Joshua from Lamb, because who wouldn't want to talk to the historical Jesus? Especially if he's anything like the character in Lamb.
- Abby Normal from You Suck (why yes, I do like Christopher Moore's books), because I want to read her descriptions of the party afterwards.
- Maye Roberts, from There's a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell, by Laurie Notaro, because she would be a lot like her creator, I think.
- Stephen Maturin (Julie can have Jack Aubrey and Awkward Davies and the rest), because I love natural history and medical trivia.
- Ranger, from Janet Evanovich's books, just because.
- Anthony Bourdain - I know his books are supposedly non-fiction, but honestly, he must at least exaggerate himself in those books, right? And I want him to cook.
2. Who is your literary role model?
Harriet Vane (from Dorothy Sayers' classic mysteries), though I don't want to be put in gaol (or jail).
3. Which literary house would you like most to live in?
Misselthwaite Manor, probably because I read about it at such an impressionable age (in A Secret Garden).
4. Which literary couple would you like most for parents?
Aral and Cordelia Vorkosigan.
5. Pick 3 literary characters you would like to have as siblings.
Well, with Aral and Cordelia as parents, that would leave Miles as a brother, which would be entertaining. I would still need a sister or two, or another brother, though - and most of the good ones seem to be from children's literature. Hmm, is there even any adult fiction out there with happy sibling relationships?
I guess I'll take Sam Gribley from My Side of the Mountain, and Claudia from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I could get the best of both nature and culture then.
6. Who is your favorite literary villain?
7. Name a character that most people dislike, but that you do not. Why do you like them?
Poor Frankenstein's monster. He tried so hard, reading to educate himself. It was hard to hate him.
8. Which minor character deserves a book all to themselves, in your opinion?
Becky Thatcher from Tom Sawyer. I want her to kick Tom's ass, and I want to hear things from her perspective.
9. Which character do you identify most with in literature?
Kate from Jennifer Weiner's Goodnight Nobody. Except in the midwest, with less money and a better husband.
10. If you could go into a novel, which one would it be and why?
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. And this is really one of those cheating answers, like when you wish for a hundred wishes, because in The Eyre Affair characters get to go into any novel that they choose.
11. Name 3 — 7 books that you rarely see on people’s favorite book lists, that are high on your own.
George & Sam: Two Boys, One Family, and Autism, by Charlotte Moore - this is non-fiction, but it is as well-written and funny and touching and gritty as any fiction I've read this year. Read it, do. Don't let the fact that it's about autism scare you away.
A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews
A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck (I'm on a crusade to convince more adults to read children's literature)
A Primate's Memoir, by Robert Sapolsky (yes, another non-fiction book)
The Lake, the River, and the Other Lake, by Steve Amick
12. Which is your least favorite book of those that are considered “classics”?
The Great Gatsby. I just wanted to smack all of the characters.
Tag you're it, reader with a blog!
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Did you ever notice how the roots of corn look a lot like the head of a Human Dalek? Weird.
Corn really is a freaky looking mutant tropical grass. I wish the local sweet corn was ready. This picture is from the field corn from the farm behind our house, which is probably going to become high fructose corn syrup and starch and cow and pig feed.
Monday, July 16, 2007
In other news, my ten-year-old son and my husband spent Friday night sleeping in a tent in the backyard. This didn't help convince my husband that camping is fun, because it was the coldest night since early May. When they came in at 6:00 am, it was 46°F.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
I've also read A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini; Lean Mean Thirteen, by Janet Evanovich; and Origin, by Diana Abu-Jaber; in the last couple of weeks. A Thousand Splendid Suns left me pretty much speechless (in a good way), from both the writing and the story, and there's not a whole lot to say about Evanovich's Thirteen - it's like the earlier ones, but with less sex and more humor - but since Diana Abu-Jaber's new book isn't as well known as the other two, I thought I'd describe it here.
I liked both Crescent and The Language of Baklava by Abu-Jaber (a novel about Iranian emigrants, and a memoir about the author's childood) a lot, so I was intrigued when I saw that Abu-Jaber's latest was a mystery. It's a very gritty mystery - full of difficult people and uncertain relationships, freezing winter nights on the streets of Syracuse, NY, loss, and office politics. The main character, Leda, reminded me a bit of Smilla from Smilla's Sense of Snow, and a bit of Mallory from Carol O'Connell's mystery series. The story was chilling (even apart from the sections on hypothermia), unpredictable, and entertaining. The ending was a little too pat for me, but after such a good read, I could hardly begrudge Abu-Jaber for tying up the loose ends so neatly. A warning, though - there is a lot about SIDs and infants getting murdered in this book - it's probably not something anyone wants to read in their postpartum period, or perhaps even with a baby in your house if you're a very sensitive person.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Cimarron County, Oklahoma. April 1935.
America from the Great Depression to World War II:
Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945,
Library of Congress.
I have another post up over at The Newbery Project: Dust, a review of Karen Hesse's poetic* 1998 winner, Out of the Dust.
rebel from www.sybermoms.com suggested I take a look at The Kids' Book Club Book: Reading Ideas, Recipes, Activities, and Smart Tips for Organizing Terrific Kids' Book Clubs, by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, so I requested it from the library, and noticed happily that Out of the Dust is one of their titles for "grades 4-7". The six pages on Out of the Dust (with spoilers! yes, you can have spoilers in a book of poetry) include a recipe for apple pandowdy, some wonderful quotes from Karen Hesse, and Hesse's recommendation for Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads. My kids aren't in a book club, but I think we will listen to Woody's cd on the drive to my parents' this weekend.
*literally as well as metaphorically - the book is a collection of poems that tell a story
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The Birchbark House is set in northern Wisconsin (on the shores of Lake Superior) in 1847, but like much of Caddie Woodlawn, a lot of the story is timeless. It is the story of a seven-year-old girl dealing with an annoying younger brother, a bossy older sister, and some quirky relatives. The character descriptions (along with the beautiful landscape descriptions and the fascinating portrayals of everyday life) really made the book something different and wonderful for me. And Old Tallow reminded me more than a little of Grandma Dowdel, one my favorite characters ever in a children's story.
I loved Erdrich's illustrations, too.
I would recommend this for kids of any age, except that there is a sudden, devastating death in the middle of the book. It is heartbreaking, and it isn't something that can just be skipped by not reading a couple of chapters, because much of the second half of the story deals with how Omakayas (the main character) comes to terms with her loss. This part is actually very beautiful and uplifting to read, and reminded me of one of my favorite books from college - Return to Laughter, by Elenore Smith Bowen, which also describes smallpox in a small community. But some younger or more sensitive kids may not be able to deal with this story as well as older children, so I'm going to say it is best for kids eleven and up.
Erdrich also has a beautiful children's book aimed at younger kids, and set in contemporary times, that older kids may like, too, called Grandmother's Pigeon. It is a nice follow-up to The Birchbark House, because it shows that Native Americans don't just exist in the misty past along the shores of Lake Superior.
Tags: book+reviews, Birchbark+House, Erdrich, children's+literature
Monday, June 25, 2007
from The Wisconsin Historical Society's site on Caddie Woodlawn
So I just posted a rather lengthy review on this 1936 Newbery winner here, over at The Newbery Project.
One of the parts that I didn't write about there (because you know, I've already gone on and on past many people's attention spans) was how Caddie and her brothers take this generic Indian item (a "scalp belt", which I have no idea if even existed among any Native peoples in Wisconsin) and re-name it and make a sideshow out it. It's a nice metaphor for the co-option of Indian culture by American society in general.
As an archaeologist working in the U.S., of course, I was accused of this and much worse. It's not so black and white (and red), though, and it's another point that could be discussed when kids read Caddie Woodlawn. How much have we progressed since its publication in 1935? Are media portrayals of Indians any better today, or are people just being politically correct and thinking the same old thing that their grandparents thought?
Tags: book+reviews, Caddie+Woodlawn, racism
Monday, June 18, 2007
There's an interesting post on AAIO on the dog park for Ann Arbor debate. With one cranky exception, even the people who don't particularly like dogs see the importance of having such a park. I don't think I've ever seen such agreement amongst the commentators there - on a positive issue, anyway, there have been plenty of snarky posts where everyone is happy to join in abuse. As far as I can tell from reading a recent newspaper article and the posts at ArborDog, the reasons that there aren't a public dog park in Ann Arbor already are:
- NIMBY issues (dog parks are ugly and/or dirty, increase traffic, people are just going to let their dogs run off-leash in parks anyway so why bother, and dog parks are dangerous, and won't someone think of the children?)
- painfully slow city bureaucracy - with funds available for fences at some parks but not others
The increased traffic and parking might be an issue if people actually do travel to use the dog park (negating the next objection). I don't really think that people who come to use a dog park are going to let their dogs run off-leash outside the park - they're already traveling a bit just to use an area where their dogs can be off-leash safely, so what's the point of letting them loose just outside the dog park? From what I've seen at other dog parks, the dog owners that use dog parks are generally more responsible than your average dog owner. They understand that dogs need exercise and socialization, and they often have taken their dogs to obedience classes. Bad dog owners can't let their dogs off the leash even in a dog park, because the dog doesn't understand "come", and their dogs won't drop the ball when they retrieve so why bother to throw anything, and they just don't have time to do more than let the dog out in the backyard a couple of times a day anyway.
I don't think that dog parks are any more unsightly than baseball fields, soccer fields, or playgrounds, and we certainly have plenty of those around. They need a lot less maintenance than any of those park facilities, too. Basically, all a dog park needs is fencing (and not really expensive fencing, either), parking (already available at many of the parks), and a garbage can. Shade is nice, but not necessary.
And I don't think dog parks are dangerous, either. You could certainly argue that happy, exhausted, and well-socialized dogs are safer to be around that neurotic, hyperactive dogs, and that dog owners are less likely to let their dogs off-leash in other parks if they have somewhere that they can do it legally. The dog park in Saline (see below) co-exists with both a children's playground and some natural areas, and during many hours spent with my kids on the playground, we've never had any problems with dogs. And the few times that I've been in the dog park, we didn't have any problems with children.
I don't understand the difficulty in putting a fence up at an existing park. The City of Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation department owns 147 parks, and they can't find one area with an acre to spare? I'm still mad at them for taking down a perfectly good chain-link fence at Scheffler Park, and replacing it with a rustic split-rail wooden fence. The chain-link fence made the park playground safe for little kids, which I assume is part of the point of having a playground. It must have cost a bit to pull out that fence and replace it with the new fence - which had the great advantage of being easy to mow under, even if it didn't keep toddlers from ducking under the rails and out onto Platt. I know that quite a few letters and e-mails to the Parks department were shrugged off, so maybe it shouldn't surprise me that dog owners are getting the shaft now.
Anyway, we're lucky to live near two dog parks now - one run by the city of Saline Parks & Recreation department, in Mill Pond park (in the back of the park, on the Saline river), and one at the corner of Textile and Pleasant Lake Rd. (kitty corner from the Washtenaw Farm Council grounds), part of the Copper Leaf Crossing vet's office/pet supply store.
Sadly, my dog is now too old to benefit from a dog park - at well over 14, she doesn't want to wrestle or chase rambunctious younger dogs any more, and she just doesn't need so much exercise. I remember spending hours throwing a tennis ball or a frisbee in Leslie Park when she was young, calling her quickly and putting the leash on her anytime a car entered the park or when a kid came wandering over from Arrowwood. We not only picked up our dog's poop, but offered bags to other dog owners who seemed like they were going to ignore their dog's waste, and often picked up other's people's dog poop and the occasional diaper thrown into the parking lot. My retriever mix also excelled in collecting plastic bottles, which we turned in for the deposit or recycled. We were responsible scofflaws who didn't hurt anyone.
Zoe still acts like a puppy when we put the sprinkler out, though, even in her old age. Here she is last Sunday, the hottest day of the year, when she was running through the water with my kids.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
It may make me blog more, which would be a good thing, as I've been lazy now that summer's here. Now excuse me while I go pick strawberries from our yard and put them on ice cream, with a little whipped cream and dark chocolate, and sit out on the deck and watch the corn grow and my kids catch butterflies and baby grasshoppers.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Over a pitcher of sangria, my book club agreed that Larson really should have included some good maps in the book. Luckily, much of this information is available online, at sites like the University of Chicago's The Columbian Exposition, or the Chicago Historical Society's site. And this is a good place to also recommend one of my favorite books ever on Chicago: Nature's Metropolis, by William Cronon - though my brother says it has too many footnotes, I liked every one of them.
Anyway, I had recently read (and was blown away by) Richard Peck's A Year Down Yonder as part of a group blog about the Newbery award winners, so that when I saw that Peck had a children's book that took place during the World's Fair, I decided to check this one out, too.
Fair Weather was a wonderful book. In fact, I thought that it provided a more compelling description of the fair and its historical importance than The Devil in the White City, at least partially because Peck didn't try to include such a mass of facts in there. And it's not like I prefer easier (or children's) books more - Nature's Metropolis (see above), although one of the best-written works of environmental history that I've ever read, still isn't really an "easy read."
One of the things that surprised me when I re-read The Devil in the White City was how little I had retained after three years. On the other hand, I don't think that I will have any trouble remembering several of the scenes from Fair Weather for many years - partially because of the beauty of the writing.
I know that it's not really fair (no pun intended!) to compare a piece of historical fiction aimed at 8 to 12-year-olds to a New York Times non-fiction bestseller - but Larson's work is so well-known and (deservedly) widely appreciated, I can't help but put in a plug in for Peck's gentler work. Frankly, I've been surprised at how very much I have been enjoying all of the children's books that I've been reading for The Newbery Project.
Although there is no mention of H.H. Holmes (aka Herman Mudgett) in Fair Weather, the book does acknowledge the darker side of Chicago - in an age-appropriate manner:
We had us a good supper at the Old Vienna, though Granddad warned us not to order the bratwurst.
"Chicago's a meat-packin' town," he explained, "and once in a while a workin' man will fall into the grinder and come out as links of prime smoked sausage."
Lottie swallowed hard.
But we made a hearty meal out of sauerbraten, sour potato salad, and vinegared cucumbers. Over our heads the terrible wheel creaked. Across the Midway dancing girls writhed like serpents. (p. 68)
Peck's five page "Note from the Author", titled After the Fair, concludes the book with the most interesting and succinct summation of the fair that I've read (and that includes Devil in the White City and many scholarly and popular articles and essays). Even if you don't have the excuse of having kids that are the right age for Fair Weather, I definitely recommend it.
Here's an excerpt from the end that illustrates Peck's writing, and some of the enduring fascination that Larson and so many others see in the fair:
As we turned up into the sky, you didn't notice the straining and the clanking of that terrible wheel anymore. The great exposition began to fan out below us and all the pavilions were like frosted wedding cakes. It was the White City on blue lagoons against the endless lake. Golden statues caught the last of the setting sun. Then like sudden morning the electric lights came on. If I could show you anything, I would show you that. The searchlight turned, and everything was washed in light like there could never be darkness again. (p. 131-2)
Tags: book+review, Chicago, children's+literature,Richard+Peck, Eric+Larson, World's+Fair,1893, Fair+Weather, Devil+White+City
Monday, June 11, 2007
My book club (and I) read March - Brooks' 2006 Pulitzer prize-winning novel - this year, and I really enjoyed it (despite the fact that I never liked Little Women all that much), but I thought that Nine Parts of Desire was every bit as good as March. Though as non-fiction, it is obviously a completely different animal. If you ask me (and it's my blog, so in a way you are asking me), Brooks is pretty damn talented, doing both of these things so very well.
The title is from a famous quote by Muhammad's son-in-law (founder of Shiite sect):
Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men.
Part of the reason that I liked Nine Parts of Desire so much is because of the way that it complements all of the other books I've read about the Middle East over the last few years. Books that it seems that every second person in the US is reading right now. Books like Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Bookseller of Kabul, Kabul Beauty School, The Kite Runner, and (as soon as I move to the top of the library reserve list) A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Brooks' book gave me a much broader perspective on women in the Middle East, and a lot of history that helped make women's roles in the other books more understandable. As much as I enjoyed the other works (except for several parts of Kabul Beauty School, where I repeatedly wanted to ask the author wtf she was thinking), each of those books presents a glimpse of women's lives, while Nine Parts of Desire provides the range and depth that put the other books in context - both in terms of time, and culturally and geographically.
Although it's non-fiction, Nine Parts is quick, easy read. Since all of the chapters are short pieces on the women that Brooks met in the different countries where she worked as a journalist - including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, and Jordan - it is easy to pick the book up and then set it down frequently, as may be needed if you are trying to read while dealing with children or a job or any other pesky book distractions.
Brooks examines how these women feel about a bunch of different topics (with some skillfully placed interviews and anecdotes), such as dress (especially different forms of veils), marriage, sexuality, children, revolution, sports, and education in the different chapters. For example:
Like most Saudi homes, theirs had two entrances - one for men, one for women. I arrived at the high-walled villa one night for a party. White-robed men moved to the front door. Their wives, black-veiled and clutching colorfully dressed toddlers, made their way to an entrance at the side.
Each door opened on a large, sofa-lined salon, the women's decorated in floral pink cottons and plush carpet; the men's a more austere and formal room. The two groups didn't mingle. But there was one male guest the hosts particularly wanted me to meet....When I returned to the women's salon, the man's wife winked at me. "You just did me a great favor," she said. "My husband loves to talk politics. And talking politics to a woman is sure to have made him aroused. Now I can't wait to get him home. I know I'll have great sex with him tonight." I blushed. The woman laughed. "You Westerners are so shy about sex," she said. "Here, we talk about it all the time." (p. 40)
There is a useful glossary and a comprehensive index, in case you want to know the difference between a burka, hijab, and chador, or find the spot about Queen Noor's courtship. Furthermore, reading Nine Parts of Desire should go a ways towards stopping its readers from making sweeping generalizations about Muslim women.
The only serious drawback that I found is that Nine Parts of Desire was published in 1994 and obviously written a year or so earlier. It is interesting and rather depressing to see how well Brooks predicted current fundamentalism and strife in the Middle East. But it is also more than a little frustrating, because at the end of the book, you really want an update that covers the last 13 years. So Ms. Brooks, if you read this - how about a new edition? I'd say the time is definitely right for it.
Tags: Geraldine+Brooks, women, Islamic, Muslim, Middle+East, history, Nine+Parts+Desire
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Not terrible. The image of the kids in their pajamas hiding in the museum gives you the gist of the story.
But when I looked around for cover images, I saw the cover that I remembered from my childhood:
This cover has original artwork by the author on it - which fits well with all the wonderful illustrations in the book (until my recent re-read, I didn't realize that E.L. Konigsburg did the illustrations as well as the story. Damn, she's talented). It also doesn't have that plasticky seventies look to it, which I first noticed with the creepy mannequin-like people in the cover for Tales from Silver Lands.
Now why did the publishers go and change a perfectly good, classic cover? Did they think that one on top was better because it was more colorful? I was happy to see that the most recent edition retains more of the flavor of the original. Although I like the title font and placement better, I'm not sure that the image is really a great improvement, though:
I'm going to have to buy this edition, though, because my 70's paperback is crappy acidic paper that probably won't last the few more years until my daughter's old enough to read it, and I have to see the 2002 afterword from Mrs. E.L. Konigsburg.
It really is a great story.
Tags: Konigsburg, Mixed+Up+Files, book+reviews, book+covers
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, by Kate DiCamillo. This is part of a very enjoyable group read and blog about the Newbery medal winners from 1924 to today (see my review of The Tale here). It's been wonderful re-discovering children's literature with my kids, and The Tale of Despereaux is something that shouldn't be missed by adults who love fairy tales.
"Reader, do you recall the word "perfidy"? As our story progresses, "perfidy" becomes an ever more appropriate word, doesn't it?" (p. 69)
The Last Chinese Chef, by Nicole Mones - I haven't started this one yet, but it's by the author of Lost in Translation, and it's about food. And it has an absolutely gorgeous cover. How bad could it be?
"This past year his topic had been a single phrase: xia guanzi, to eat out, to go down to a restaurant. In an elegant sixty-minute loop he conjured all of xia guanzi's meanings over the last eighty years. At first it meant something positive and exciting - pleasure and company, good food." (p. 85)
"To many observers, the most heartbreaking thing is that they're choosing such vulnerability voluntarily. "Women's impoverishment is nothing new, but in the past, women didn't have other options," observes sociologist Kathleen Gerson. "Now they do." " (p. 103)
House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest, by Craig Childs, is filled beautiful names (and places): Chaco Canyon, Hovenweep, Kinishba, Homol'ovi, Grasshopper Pueblo, Mesa Verde. It also has enough great feasts, rituals, "roads", awe-inspiring architecture, drought, migration, warfare, cannibalism, corn, prehistoric ecology and land management, and ground water to satisfy me (as well as a very good index). This would be a wonderful book to read before visiting late prehistoric sites in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico, which were familiar to me but I'm afraid not so well-known to most Americans. Childs does a very good job of explaining a lot of the things that southwestern archaeologists spend their time pondering with a minimum of jargon.
"The word roads is probably a misnomer. Although many are wide enough to handle multiple lanes of car traffic and they are outlined into the distance by curbs of rock and broken pottery, they seem too large for mere transportation. Instead they were likely formal processions, long public spaces akin to the National Mall in Washington, D.C." (p. 57)
"You could almost smell that the end of the school year was approaching. Maybe it was the brightness of the sunlight, or the fact there were no more awful multiple-choice tests, or simply that everyone except Clyde wore shorts to school." (p. 93)
Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America, by Elliot Jaspin - a grab from the new release shelf, this is turning out to be a very compelling and heartbreaking collection of fine-grained histories of several different communities where African-Americans were driven out by vicious mobs. Most of the events covered took place in the early 1900's, but unlike the lynchings and race riots in this period, the (slightly) less deadly but very far-reaching "racial cleansing" that took place in many places (including Indiana, Missouri, Texas, and Kentucky) is not as commonly known.
"Within minutes the gunfire died away. The mob had used up all its ammunition. Uncertain of what to do next, the rioters fell back to Commercial Street. As the mob milled about, a few men trotted up Walnut Street to the state armory next door to the city jail and sized the rifles and ammunition - by one estimate a thousand rounds - that had been loaned to the posses the day before." (p. 75, on Pierce City, Missouri).
Friday, May 11, 2007
A couple of my fellow Newbery Project bloggers posted their reviews of Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink (1963 winner), and Debbie Reese commented there and linked to her posts about the book at her blog, American Indians in Children's Literature, in two posts: Reflections on Caddie Woodlawn: Teaching about Stereotypes using Literature (which is especially poignant because it involves Reese's third grade daughter's response to the book), and The 'Scalp Belt" in Caddie Woodlawn.
Reese's blog (which includes book reviews from several other authors) is a wonderful resource for reading about children's books on different Native American peoples, First Nation groups, or American Indians, along with Oyate (which I linked to when writing about Nature books for Kids).
It's interesting how often Native peoples are invoked when writing about nature for kids. I know there are several academic papers out there linking American stereotypes about "Indians" as a whole with our ideas about nature. The idea of "people living in harmony with nature" is a powerful one that certainly transcends the notion that different Native peoples in different places and times had many different types of relationships with the environment (both natural, and that resulting from thousands of years of human modification) around them.
Anyway, I would venture to say that Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins was mainly a convenient person to hang O'Dell's descriptions of Channel Island ecology upon.
Interestingly, this site (which ranks Newbery winners according to how well a bunch of librarians and teachers in Indiana liked them) says this about Island of the Blue Dolphins (56th out of 85):
Although I violently disagreed with some of the comments from the Allen County Public Library librarians and teachers group (see my comments here), I did wonder about authenticity in Island of the Blue Dolphins, too. O'Dell seems to get the Native technology and the environmental surroundings of the island of San Nicholas right, but when it came to Karana's feelings - let alone her spiritual and cultural values - I really think there's a big hole in the book.
An OK story, we had some questions about authenticity and character voice.