31 December 2009

'Tis the Season: Cue the returns!

Now we enter the part of the holiday season where we become lucky to even make money because people are returning their holiday gifts.  The season of returns is greatly complicated by:
  • people who do not read the return policy printed on the back of the receipt
  • people who did not get a receipt and wish to return their gift (for which you get store credit at the lowest-selling price at the discretion of the manager; we absolutely will not give you cash for the list-price of the item so if you have an issue with your gift you need to be honest with the giver and ask for the receipt...or just suck it up and quit whining)
  • people who got a gift receipt and only want cash for the item (gift receipt = store credit for the purchased price or you can exchange for a different item and we'll credit the purchased price of the returned item; take it or leave it)
Repeat the above three ad nauseum.  But now some funnies:
  • An embarassed customer asked for the nearest location of a competitor bookstore; she'd been gifted with their gift certificates and we don't have one of their stores in the area, closest is about 90 minutes away (awkward)
  • A little kid hugged me after I helped him find the Percy Jackson books (I generally don't like being touched by strangers but happy little kids who like to read books....I'll make an exception)
  • Totally gave some 10-year-old-ish kid the death-glare for getting a boat-load of manga off the shelf and leaving it everywhere in the graphic novel aisle...then I asked if there was anything he wanted us to hold at the cashwrap for him to purchase (he said no); came back 5 minutes later and the kid was gone but he'd put all the books back (never underestimate the power of learning how the death-glare and "mom" voice work on children)
  • A mom dragged her teenage daughter over to have the poor kid thank me for helping Mom find the books the daughter loves so much (I felt sorry for the daughter because, yeah, being forced to thank someone you don't know is pretty awkward and it's doubly awkward when you're desperately trying to be cool; I told her she was quite welcome, I was glad she liked the books, and, PS, mothers do grow out of the "embarassing" phase)
  • A college student asked if we "had the textbooks for his class" and I said I could order them if he would give me the titles; he looked confused and asked why I needed the titles (yup, this is our future; having to explain to a college student that I am not clairvoyant was the highlight of the conversation...I also had to explain that the UI has a campus bookstore and most of the professors order the textbooks there; which begs the question...what did he do during the fall semester?)
And that does it for holiday season 2009.  Have a Happy New Year!

Little Women, read by Barbara Caruso

I picked up Little Women in an unabridged audio recording because I really wanted to read it again for the Women Unbound Challenge (the audio recording was pretty good, although I couldn't decide if the narrator (Barbara Caruso) was going for a subdued English accent or subdued New England accent; her German accent for Professor Bhaer was pretty good).  It's a good place to start because everyone gets their knickers in a twist over Jo's choice to give up writing and become a mommy with her Professor.

There are five major female characters in Mrs. March and her four daughters and each of them demonstrates some aspect of feminism, in a way (I've been reading Elaine Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers and American suffragism wasn't quite in full swing when Alcott wrote her most-famous novel).  Mrs. March always tries to be a good, upstanding citizen, helping with veteran's organizations and providing food and clothing to those in far more dire straights than the Marches; she is never "idle" in the lazy sense.  Meg realizes she doesn't need a huge house and piles of money to have a happy home (compared to the rich and priviledged Sally Moffat/Gardiner whose house is not filled with the sounds of family or husband; Sally's mercenary marriage did not bring her happiness or comfort); Meg is kind of devoid of personality and seems quite conventional as a character who is pretty much made to be wife and mother from the start with no other aspirations.  Over the years, and many times I've read Little Women, Beth has come to symbolize the idea that dying with dignity and acceptance is important; I had to skip the two tracks where Beth dies - it always makes me sob, sentimental writing or not, and sobbing while driving isn't the best idea.  Amy has never been my favorite March sister, too prissy, too willing to play the society game, but she does come round in the end and marries for love (although I've always wondered if she would've married Laurie if he were less rich).

Which brings me to Jo.  Jo is always my favorite March sister, impetuous, hot-tempered (totally guilty of the same on my part), passionate, and creative.  Jo does change quite a bit over the course of the novel, learns to bite her tongue and mind her temper (she doesn't morph into a compete doormat but at least learns to think before she speaks, which is a hard lesson for any of us), writes "rubbish" and then learns to write better things (which can be seen as having her creative juices squelched but since I like well-written stuff better than sensationalistic crap I tend to see that as a growth of the artist within Jo, rather than pumping out schlock for the money), and ends up with an appropriate companion in Professor Bhaer.  I'm pretty partial to Professor Bhaer (must be those German genes that make up 80% of my DNA) and he is pretty progressive in that he does tutor women (Jo included) so he gets a plus in my book; I suppose Alcott could have had Jo running Plumfield school by herself, as a dignified spinster-writer-headmistress, but then there would be no Professorin (as someone who is on the verge of despairing of finding any sort of companionship I identify with Jo's despair after losing Beth).  I always read about how people complain that Jo quits writing but I think she actually does continue writing (after Aunt March leaves her Plumfield and Jo decides to turn it into a school there is mention that Jo keeps publishing; maybe - I don't have a copy of the book at hand - plus she writes the lyrics for the song sung during the last chapter).

A favorite part of Little Women is the early section on "Playing Pilgrims" - using the sections of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress to comment on the Marches' burdens and solutions to their problems.  The girls all have problems we can identify with - materialism, envy, idleness, conceit, short-tempers - and try to overcome those burdens using the allegory of Christian.  It is overtly Christian in tone but there are good lessons to learn (Jo's lesson of learning to think before she speaks comes at the cost of losing her opportunity to travel Europe) and most of the girls' lessons are worth learning for both men and women.  No one likes a gossip or flirt (even now, when "flirt" translates into "player"), saying hurtful things can come with a price, money and material possessions don't buy happiness, and continual idleness leads to problems.

Little Women isn't a corset-burning feminst tract (the most recent movie adaptation tried to dial up the feminism by adding scenes: Meg doesn't wear a corset and Professor Bhaer takes Jo to a suffragist meeting) but Alcott doesn't have a novel full of doormat female characters, either (Meg starts heading to doormat status but she doesn't have that much personality to start).  Home and family are the central aspects of the novel and Alcott does emphasize loving relationships, rather than mercenary ones, so that is a step in the right direction, even if her women aren't of the career variety.

26 December 2009

A Christmas Carol, read by Patrick Stewart

I got an audiobook of A Christmas Carol so I could "read" a different book while driving and I found the version performed by Patrick Stewart.  I can't comment much on the actual story of A Christmas Carol; the message has become pervasive in our society and I'd be surprised if I ever ran into someone who didn't at least know where Ebenezer Scrooge came from.  I've read the story at least once a year in some form since high school (or watched it, heelllooo, Muppet's Christmas Carol) so the fact that this audio set is abridged didn't really bother me; I already know the story.  What I was interested in was Patrick Stewart's performance - and it was AMAZING.  He uses so many different accents - the RSC one for narration, a clipped, staccato one for Scrooge, a more nasal London accent for Bob Crachit - that it is easy to keep the many characters straight.  I really enjoyed this reading and will definitely listen to it next Christmas season.

24 December 2009

'Tis the Season: Part 4 and Happy Holidays

I didn't work this last Saturday (it was the weekend before Christmas and the "powers that be" decided it would be so-much-better-for-desperate-customers to staff the customer service desk with people who have less than one months' experience rather than have the experienced booksellers even working at all; Merry Christmas and ho-ho-ho).  On to the funnies (or not so funny as you'll see):
  • A customer kept exclaiming "Epic!" at the end of every sentence while I was explaining how store orders work; it got so bad I started wondering whether he had Tourette's or a drug problem (maybe he just gets really excited about the little things, who knows)
  • Some lady complained that we didn't have enough staff working (lemme explain some basic economics to ya...)
  • A toddler was having a completely serious half-English/half-gibberish conversation with a plush Cookie Monster in the midst of the chaos that is the children's section during Christmas; outside of my own nieces, that's probably the cutest thing I've seen in a very long time
  • At an author signing, someone asked the author's publisher (publicist? didn't quite catch who that guy was) if the book had any vampires in it; the publisher/publicist said "No" and the author jumped right in and said "Yes, tell them yes! It can have anything they want in it!" (the book is a novel about a father-son relationship; the author was being completely sarcastic but the publisher/publicist didn't look terribly amused)
  • A mom had a long list of classics her English-major daughter wanted for Christmas (Jane Eyre, Northanger Abbey, Adam Bede, Barchester Towers, Mrs. Dalloway, Sons and Lovers, etc); I had everything in the store but two titles (out of about 14, she bought nine of them); she was so happy I found everything for her in under 5 minutes, without having to look it all up on the computer, that she asked me to recommend a book for her to read for fun "just for myself" - I had her buy The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (having a happy customer ask for a personal recommendation is as good as a gushing "thank you" in my book)
  • "I need a book that tells you how to use those sticks" - dead serious, that's an exact quote; so I'm like sticks....chopsticks? um, I-ching? camping?....  Nope, knitting needles; his wife wanted to learn to knit (oh boy, do I have a lot of knitting books and, BTW, here's a card for my favorite LYS, the owner loves to teach new knitters)
  • Someone was looking for books to take to a friend living in a foreign country and read me off a list of "banned" authors she found online but didn't know anything about: Khalil Gibran, Chinua Achebe, Milan Kundera, Iris Chang, JD Salinger, and Salman Rushdie; I didn't even have to type anything to find books for those authors in the store because, well, I know who all of them are and at least one of them has a notorious literary history (you guessed it, I went straight for The Satanic Verses because the customer had no idea Rushdie had a fatwa issued against his life in the 1980s...and that's like OMG, HUGE...and then she asked me what a fatwa is/was so I explained...and then she told me she grew up in a Muslim country...and now I'm thinking "What the hell?"  I recommended a few other titles - Midnight's Children, The Prophet, Things Fall Apart, The Unbearable Lightness of Being - but she went with The Satanic Verses; never underestimate the power of banning a book/threatening the life of an author on the ability to attract attention like a black hole)
  • two days before Christmas a customer complained that we had nothing he wanted to buy as gifts; he wanted all the popular stuff we sold out of over the weekend and are waiting on a re-stock to arrive (it's not my fault you saved your Christmas-gift shopping until the last minute and you want the hot items your fellow humans beat you to because they were smart and went shopping over the weekend; you need to shut up and buy some gift cards)
  • I don't know what's in the water lately but customers keep asking about my "I read banned books" button attached to my name tag (I wear it all the time; no one asked me about it during Banned Books Week); best question came from an older man who asked me what banned book had I read most recently (I'm still reading The Satanic Verses and finished American Psycho in September)
  • also had a customer get snotty with me because I refused to sell her a copy of a book we were holding for another customer (lemme explain the concept of first-come-first-served: we take holds over the phone and Internet so next time call ahead before you drive two hours to buy something we can't sell you because another customer asked for it before you did; PS: I am impervious to whining, complaining, and bribery)
  • a very lovely specimen of the human race smeared feces all over a stall in the women's room (we didn't find it until after close because no one told us about it and I can guarantee it happened after 930pm because that was the last time I checked the bathroom for messes; none of us are paid enough to clean up dried-on shit)
And a little creep factor, just because it's Christmas:
  • A man who was previously observed "pleasuring" himself in the children's section of the store, and who got away before we could confront him (or have him arrested), was observed AGAIN in kids reading pornographic magazines and watching the little kids play with Thomas trains; a customer pointed him out but he got away before our kids' bookseller confronted him (consider this a PSA: we can't do much about this creeper/pedophile until we can get a good description/picture to the police - he disappears before we get a good look at him and the general description of "old white dude with a ball cap" isn't very specific - so please don't leave your children unattended in our store or in any store, period; we're not babysitters and there are some seriously bad people hanging around)
That's it until after the holidays.  Merry Christmas everyone!

20 December 2009

The Help

Kathryn Stockett has been tearing up the bestseller lists with her debut novel The Help so I decided I would make it my first-ever book to read on my nook.  Stockett deserves all the praise heaped on her book; I loved the way the narrators rotated the story between the three of them (Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter), I loved how there was just enough dialect to hear the voice in my head but not so much as to make it unreadable, and I loved how much I cared for Aibileen, Minny, and Miss Skeeter (and how much I really hated Miss Hilly - hag).  This was such an enjoyable book - even though it was terrifying at times because of the time period and characters - and I was sorry to see it end (although it ended on a perfect note and a little cliffhanger).

The Help shows me my niavete; dead serious, as much as I know how poorly people of color were treated (and in many places still are no matter how many laws protecting their rights) it still blows my socks off that one person would treat another as sub-human just because of skin color.  I'm from Iowa and my high school was pretty evenly split among white-kids-with-money and poor-white-trash; our minority students were nearly all Asian, all fairly well-off, so I just never saw anyone mistreated because of race.  I actually witnessed hatred based on homophobia before I witnessed hatred based on race.  Reading through The Help I just wanted to step into the book and tell "Miss" Hilly (she really is a horrible person) that all that crap about catching diseases from black people is the biggest lie I've ever heard in my life; ooh, just makes my hair stand on end.  I would like to think that, placed in the same 1960s South, I would at least take Miss Skeeter's position and not toe-the-party-line of racist ideology.

There is a feminist thread running through The Help and the burgeoning feminist wave does come to bear in the novel.  WASP-y Miss Skeeter has graduated with a college degree...but no husband or fiance (gasp, shock and horror, because you have to get married and sprog; look what it did to Miss Leefolt who is lurching around in some odd post-partum depression fog).  She is given the opportunity to get her toe in the door in the world of journalism and to come through she must do something that is monumentally unpopular and she must convince the black maids (the "help" of the title) to tell her their stories, both bad and good.  She also must confront her own passive racism, that she has taken advantage of "the help" for so many years without thought to how hard the women work, for how little take-home pay, and how tenuous their employment remains. 

I wish I read The Help earlier in the year - now I must amend my "best-of" lists!

15 December 2009

Teaser Tuesday: The Help

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers
I drive my mama's Cadillac fast on the gravel road, headed home.  Patsy Cline can't even be heard on the radio anymore, for all the rocks banging on the side of the car.  Mother would be furious, but I just drive faster.
~ Chapter 5, The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Help is my first nook purchase - not only is the book very enjoyable it was a smooth purchase and download.

13 December 2009

'Tis the season: Part Three

Now we come upon that part of the Christmas shopping season where it becomes impossible to have any sort of real conversation with a customer without being interrupted by some other "customer" who "just has one question" (usually about the location of some other store in the mall or the store/mall hours).  Come on, people, kindergarten rules apply at all times, and unless your "question" is a medical emergency/lost child you need to wait your turn.

  • I had a pair of very nice grandmas in (separately) buying books for their graddaughters (who are probably college-age judging by the wish lists); the first needed books by that "Gerald Lewis" guy who wrote the "Chronicles of Nautica" but not those books...there was one on divorce (errr, yeah, we've got all of CS Lewis's theological works); the second was looking for some "Chuck Pontiac" books but not the diary one (she bought a gift card instead once I summarized the plots of a few of Chuck Palahniuk's books, I tried to get her to buy Fight Club)
  • some girl was sprawled out on the floor smack in the middle of our fiction section reading an ancient mass market - completely oblivious to the customers trying to shop around her; I finally had to tell her to find a chair after the customers complained she was blocking their access to the shelves and aisles (which she was - I had to step over her three times and she didn't take the hint)
  • someone was looking for books on DIY taxidermy as a gift (I've got books on how to field dress and use all of your deer, but no taxidermy)
  • this was the weekend before finals and the STUDENTS (grrr) were out in force hogging the tables and asking if we had their course textbooks in stock (which we don't for this reason); one girl even plugged her laptop into an outlet in some random corner of the store and left it there for at least three hours (I have never in my life been so tempted to take a customer's "abandoned" belongings and lock them in the office just to teach her a lesson)
  • A lady about my age showed me the Twilight-themed Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights editions and asked if I knew anything about the books (only that they're like my favorite books ever, sheesh); I talked her out of those editions and into ones that were slightly cheaper and annotated (important when trying to decipher Joseph's ramblings in WH)
And, once again, I have an "I am not even remotely responsible for your homework" entry:
  • a ninth-grader (maybe, she looked kind of young) showed me a copy of a teen paranormal fantasy/romance book and asked if it counted as science fiction (not really) because she has to write a book report about an SF novel; so I went and showed her all sorts of SF things (Ender's Game, Leviathan, Boneshaker, etc; I was pretty partial to Phillip K. Dick about her age) and then she says "But my teacher said we could use Twilight" in a snotty-pouty way (grrr, you know what, you asked me a question and I gave you an answer; if your teacher is willing to let you use Twilight then you're going to have to take up the question of appropriate choice of project with him/her; I don't think Twilight is SF at all, I'm completely not responsible for your homework, and I have more paying customers than I can shake a stick at right now; stop wasting my time)
PS: I probably logged 8-10 miles running up and down the store for 8 hours.  We got slammed.

12 December 2009

My nook came (yippee!!)

I have always loved new toys.  Now that I'm a grown-up my "toys" are more of the techie kind.  Which means I decided to be a first-adopter for the first time and pre-ordered a nook.  It came on December 10 - just after we'd had a nasty snowstorm so I had a little early-Christmas-present fun.  I scampered home between the two jobs to rescue my precious package from my front door.

The nook, cover, and scratch kit were all very neatly packed into the box.  My pretty cover arrived (looking exactly like it's picture on the website) and to keep it from being crushed it came with a nook-sized insert:

The nook itself is very tightly packed into it's box:

There are instructions for getting nook out of the box but I'm glad it's packed so securely.  The nook itself is packed into a plastic case and then that case is taped onto a cardboard backing that holds it still in the box and then surrounded by bubble wrap.  Short of actually running over the box with a truck that's a pretty secure package.

That's nook still snapped to it's plastic backing after I managed to pry the plastic case apart (the hardest part of getting nook out but it didn't take very long.  It only took about 5 minutes to go from box to:

All ready to register and charge.  I called my nook "Borges" in honor of his short story The Library of Babel.  I'd been trying to find a good "library" name since nook is basically a repository of ebooks...and couldn't think of a better example than Borges.  The scratch kit went on without (much of) a hitch beyond my inability to actually put one of those films on something sans bubbles (oy) and the registration process was simple because it just logged right in with my BN.com account/password.  I've yet to do a purchase because I need to load a gift card into the ebook system but that should be pretty easy.

I just wish the outside of the nook box was as pretty as the inside of the box:

10 December 2009

The Book of Air and Shadows

This is technically a DNF (did not finish).

I've been sitting on the hard cover of The Book of Air and Shadows for a while (since May 2007, actually) and the story seemed interesting to start. A lost Shakespeare manuscript ('tis the vogue for mysteries these days it seems), mobsters, creepy lawyers, paleography...seemed interesting.  So I thought.

Well, I forced myself to read the first 100 pages (through chapter 5) then did something I never do - I read the very last chapter. It was really more like an epilogue and I was completely unimpressed. There are two narrators (Jake-the-IP-lawyer narrates in the first person and there's a third-person narration for every scene not involving Jake) as well as the Bracegirdle "letters" which supposedly point toward the existence of a missing Shakespeare MS about Mary Queen of Scots. The story ping-pongs around and doesn't really go anywhere in those first 5 chapters to make me want to read more.

Also, those Bracegirdle letters don't seem very real to me. I've had to read letters from the English Civil War/Restoration period - those of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, John Dryden, Samuel Pepys - as well as the work of Robert Boyle and John Milton and when I compare the letters to what I've read the "made-up" ones strike a false note (a sore point with me, if you're going to have made-up sources they better look real which takes more than just atrocious spelling).

I'm not sure what the deal is with me and Shakespeare mysteries because I loathed Interred With Their Bones as well.

09 December 2009

The Gargoyle

I've had The Gargoyle parked in my TBR/in-progress bin since it was released.  I was intrigued by the concept and since Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is a favorite of mine I thought this would be a fun read.  I was a little incorrect.

It's not a very good read; the concept is particularly engaging but the actual writing does at times read like poorly executed pornographic film dialogue (perhaps that was the idea as the unnamed narrator is/was a rich man by way of the porn industry).  I really like the bones of this book - the intertwining of mysticism and death, the inclusion of the manuscript and sculpture work, the concept of physical versus spiritual beauty - but I feel like the narrative of the story got all jumbled. All the ancillary ghosts get all jumbled up with The Inferno and it doesn't quite make all that much sense. 

I keep thinking The Gargoyle was about 100 pages too long, that a great deal of the narrative meandering could have been streamlined. In the end, the major denoument of the story wasn't that hard to guess but it does leave more questions than answers - so not that satisfying. This book was supposed to be one of my favorites of 2008, a great story about a horribly burned porn star who becomes entangled with a questionably-sane woman who believes the two knew each other in 14-century Germany, but it just kept languishing on my TBR pile with a bookmark sticking out of the top, marking where I'd last gotten distracted.  An enforced snowday caused me to resurrect the poor thing and finish it off. 

Wordless Wednesday: To tree or not to tree

08 December 2009

Teaser Tuesday: Illness

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers
In order for us to understand the meaning of our existence we must first see our lives as a stretch from birth to death, or as essentially temporal.  We must understand our finitude on both sides, but especially our death, because that is where we are inexorably headed.
~ p 92, Illness: The Cry of the Flesh by Havi Carel

07 December 2009

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

I really can't say much for a review about A Truth Universally Acknowledged, edited by Susannah Carson.  It's a very nice collection of thirty-four extant essays (plus a foreward by Harold Bloom) about Jane Austen's collected works.  The contributing authors run the gamut from the very literary (Bloom, Lionel Trilling (who appears twice), Martin Amis, Kingsley Amis, and Virginia Woolf), to the somewhat literary (AS Byatt and Inges Sodre doing an "interview-style" essay, Susanna Clarke, C.S. Lewis, and and Rebecca Mead) to the popular (Amy Heckerling).  It's a very well-rounded collection and I enjoyed reading all the essays.  I even went off and ordered Lionel Trilling's collection The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent because I liked his two contributions and, if I liked his two contributions on Jane Austen, imagine what he has to say on other subjects (have I mentioned I got in an essay-reading kick lately?).

I do have a small complaint about this book and it's not even about the content.  It's about the arrangement of essays within the volume.  It took me quite a few essays to realize Carson had grouped them roughly by subject: general essays about Austen's work followed by essays on the Auten novels in order of publication and lastly a few speculative essays (Woolf's "Jane Austen at Sixty" is here).  I don't have any complaints about the arrangement itself but I would have preferred the groupings as printed headings on the contents page.  It helps my transitions between essays if I know why things are arranged as such.

But overall, if you're an Austen freak (like me) this is a must-have book of Austen criticism.  It looks nice up on the shelf next to my volume of Austen's letters.

04 December 2009

Bookspotting: December 4, 2009

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson
Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham

It's a pretty thin crowd (on an early bus due to the need to leave town this evening) and nearly everyone else is on a cell phone.

And what was I reading? A Truth Universally Acknowledged edited by Susannah Carson

02 December 2009


I came home after working all day, and chilling with Jackie and Eric at BW3 after, to find a little surprise:

I don't think the doormat is doing a very good job of hiding the pile....

And what was in those boxes?

The two big boxes contained 32 Best American series trade paperbacks - it was my Alibris order (the smallest box was my Dad's Christmas present)!  I so rule at bargain shopping; 32 trade paperbacks @ $1.99 apiece + free shipping from Alibris - 15% off coupon = $53.  Booyah!!  I'm most excited about:

Edited by Margaret Atwood (squeee).  And:

The first Best American Essays volume from 1986.  This is the most marked-up volume I got (from the Catalina High School library in Tuscon, Arizona - there's a bookplate and library markings all over it) but I wasn't going to argue about it for an out-of-print volume that is surprisingly in good condition otherwise with only one crease in the spine.  The other volumes look fairly unread, which is kind of sad when I think about it (and, strangely, each book had a printed manifest tucked into the front cover, with a coupon off my next order from Alibris...I now have 32 coupons to use by February 2010, haha).

Also included in the packages today was a small, unmarked plain white air-mail bubble envelope with no return address.  Little did I know it contained a surprise from the UK:

Rebecca Skloot had sent out a tweet requesting readers/reviewers for Havi Carel's book Illness: The Cry of the Flesh a few weeks ago and I decided to tweet Rebecca back and get Dr. Carel's information.  Dr. Carel is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of the West of England in Bristol and Illness looks at the philosophy of illness as part of "The Art of Living Series" from Acumen Publishing; she also weaves her own story into the book as a sufferer of lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM).  This is the first review copy I personally requested - I wasn't offered it first - and I feel very (lucky? privileged?) to receive a copy from "across the pond"; I can't wait to get started.

I have sooo many new books to read!!!!!!  If my nook had come today I think I might have burst from book-love!  I certainly wouldn't be able to sleep - too much to look at.

******EDIT:  In my super-excitement (and overly tired state), I completely forgot to list the books because it's not like you can read all the spines.  So I received:
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2002 edited by Dave Eggers
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2000 edited by David Quammen
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004 edited by Stephen Pinker
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005 edited by Jonathan Weiner
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007 edited by Richard Preston
The Best American Essays 1986 edited by Elizabeth Hardwick
The Best American Essays 1987 edited by Gay Talese
The Best American Essays 1989 edited by Geoffrey Wolff
The Best American Essays 1990 edited by Justin Kaplan
The Best American Essays 1991 edited by Joyce Carol Oates
The Best American Essays 1992 edited by Susan Sontag
The Best American Essays 1993 edited by Joseph Epstein
The Best American Essays 1994 edited by Tracy Kidder
The Best American Essays 1995 edited by Jamaica Kincaid
The Best American Essays 1996 edited by Geoffrey C. Ward
The Best American Essays 1997 edited by Ian Frazier
The Best American Essays 1998 edited by Cynthia Ozick
The Best American Essays 1999 edited by Edward Hoagland
The Best American Essays 2001 edited by Kathleen Norris
The Best American Essays 2002 edited by Stephen Jay Gould (confession: I actually used to own a copy of this, purchased solely because of the essay "Welcome to Cancerland" by Barbara Ehrenreich....but seem to have lost it some time ago)
The Best American Essays 2003 edited by Anne Fadiman
The Best American Essays 2004 edited by Louis Menand
The Best American Essays 2006 edited by Lauren Slater
The Best American Short Stories 1989 edited by Margaret Atwood
The Best American Short Stories 1997 edited by E. Annie Proulx
The Best American Short Stories 1999 edited by Amy Tan
The Best American Short Stories 2000 edited by E.L. Doctorow
The Best American Short Stories 2001 edited by Barbara Kingsolver
The Best American Short Stories 2002 edited by Sue Miller
The Best American Short Stories 2003 edited by Walter Mosley
The Best American Short Stories 2004 edited by Lorrie Moore
The Best American Short Stories 2007 edited by Stephen King

Looking at each volume individually, I am very surprised at how little wear is present on some of the older volumes.

01 December 2009

Teaser Tuesday: The Complete Stories

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers
Mrs. May stopped still, one hand lifted to her throat.  The sound was so piercing that she felt as if some violent unleashed force had broken out of the ground and was charging toward her.
~ p 316, The Complete Stories, "Greenleaf", Flannery O'Connor

30 November 2009

Wrapping up the "Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge"!

It's November 30 and the "Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge" hosted by Swapna must come to a close.  I think I bought more new books than old books I read but at least the batch I read are.....read.  And done.  Obviously my ability write decently is currently on hiatus.

Moving on.  My challenge goal was fifty-percent; I could have gone higher but I was playing it safe.  Here's what I read that counted toward the challenge:
The Link
The Oracle
The Invention of Air
Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
The Other
The Film Club
The Best American Science Writing 2009
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009
The Mysteries of Udolpho
Harry Potter's Bookshelf
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
The Best American Essays 2009
The Post-American World
The Best American Essays 2008
And Then There Were None
A Beautiful Blue Death

I didn't count these titles in the challnge (hey, I didn't have many review copies so I had to make a delineation somewhere):
The Children's Book (purchased after the challenge started)
Wolf Hall (purchased after the challenge started)
Hush, Hush (an ARC I've only had since August but wanted to be rid of)
The Mill on the Floss (review copy sent to me by BNBC)

So...17 out of 21 is 80.95%.  Yay!  I did very well.  Next time I'm going to raise my goal, particularly if I don't have many review copies hanging about to be read.

A Beautiful Blue Death

I picked up A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch last year as part of a buy-2-get-1 deal (the "get 1" part was Interred With Their Bones and I thought that one was terrible).  Victorian mystery/Sherlock Holmes-type sleuth, poison, intrigue....I'm up for a bit of mystery reading.  It sounds like a nice cold-weather-warm-blanket-and-tea book.

To set up the story a bit, because there is a lot of exposition scattered throughout the book, Charles Lenox is the younger son of a baronet (who actually does have enough money to allow Charles a life of leisure) and spends much of his time as an amateur detective and archaeologist.  He lives next door to a childhood sweetheart, Lady Jane Gray (who isn't quite the staid Victorian matron), has a very good relationship with his butler/valet, Graham, and has successfully solved several cases prior to the opening of A Beautiful Blue Death.  Lenox has an eccentric-ish brother, Edmund, a bumbling Scotland Yard inspector, Exeter, and a very good friend who happens to be an experienced physician, McConnel, married to a pretty woman, Toto (Victoria).  Lenox is also very observant, to the point of noting an MP would probably switch constituencies based on the change of pocket-watch displayed.  Can you see all the Sherlock parallels?  Watson, Mycroft, Mrs. Watson, Irene Adler, Lestraude?  Although the story is quite well-written and very enjoyable I probably would have quit reading if Lenox had turned out to both play the violin at all hours and go masquerading as an opium-den denzien (it is acknowledged that Lenox has disguised himself in prior cases but does not do so during this book).

Finch uses a deft hand to bring 1860s London to life as well as the politics of the day (politics and financial hanky-panky are very closely tied in this book).  There is also a considerable amount of musing on the problem of poverty and social class which was quite well-written and didn't intrude on the storyline.  Lenox does fret a bit too much over his friend McConnell's relationship with the gin bottle, in my opinion, but it at least doesn't go too far into modern psychological thinking.

There is one grating scene about three chapters from the end of the novel.  Lenox receives a telegram update about one of the major players in the mystery and Finch suddenly follows this character through the rest of his lifetime in the next two pages.  The final meeting of this character and Lenox, about 30 years after the scene were Lenox receives the telegram, is even described.  It's very wierd, makes very little practical sense, stops the falling action of the book, and then the next chapter opening doesn't even resume the action smoothly.  Definitely needed more editing for that bit because it really set my teeth on edge.

I am still interested in the series so at some point I'll pick up The September Society.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 17/21

And Then There Were None

"Literature by Women" scheduled Agatha Christie's murder-mystery, set on an isolated island, for November 2009 (meaning I scheduled it after the group voted because I'm the moderator).  This wasn't the first read-through the novel for me; I read it in high school when we did Ten Little Indians in the play adaptation and I've read it a few times since then.  And Then There Were None is truly a masterwork in the mystery/thriller/crime genre.

Without spoiling too much of the plot I can say that I always puzzle over how the reader is supposed to figure out the identity of the murderer before the end of the story (and before the epilogue starts).  The prose is very spare and Christie does not allow the omniscient narrator to get inside the murderer's head.  On this read through, actually, it was the final flip-through before returning the book to the shelf until next time, I think I might have caught onto Christie's very small clue.  I think the ability of the reader to solve the puzzle rests on the amount and type of internal dialogue made available to the reader.  How one is supposed to catch it on a first read (or second or third, for that matter) I don't know but I would need to read through the book again specifically to take note of the internal dialogue.

Project for next time.  Haha.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 16/20

29 November 2009

Complete Booker 2010 Challenge: Hit me!

The Complete Booker blog is hosting a challenge for 2010!  I want to read all the Booker winners eventually and this will be soooo up my alley.  The challenge runs from January 1 - December 31, 2010 so I think I'll aim for the "Winners' Circle" level (read six Booker Prize-winning novels) and mix in a little "Booker Devotee" if I have time (read all six shortlisted novels from a single year).  This might even be a good excuse to re-read Possession so I can get a blog post out of it (haha) but I know that I'll probably read Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha, The Sea, and The Sea, the Sea.

Literature by Women welcomes Flannery O'Connor

"Literature by Women" at Barnes and Noble Book Clubs will be reading The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor during December and January (with a two week break over the holidays).  Please join us as we read all 31 of O'Connor's short stories in chronological order starting with "The Geranium."

'Tis the Season: Part 2

I survived Black Friday and Saturday and lived to tell about it (more or less because I came in at 2pm and closed - the major shopping rushes were finished by then).  I actually had a lot of really nice customers - a blessing for a change - but there were a few amusing incidents:
  • a customer asked if we sell scarves....we do sell book-themed umbrellas but no scarves (we did have some Harry Potter-themed ties when the seventh book came out 2 1/2 years ago)
  • a customer complained because we didn't have Sarah Palin's book displayed prominently (it's #1 on the bestseller list for non-fiction, do we need to wrap it in fairy-lights or something?)
  • later, another customer complained because we were actually selling the Sarah Palin book and we shouldn't sell crap (hey dude, I only find the books and take the money, I don't particularly care about anyone's politics, if you don't like it, don't buy it; I know I won't buy it and, by-the-way, we sell a lot of "crap" in varying degrees of taste, just fyi)
  • a tweener walked all the way around the Twilight Saga display (aka "the shrine"), picked up a few items, looked at them, and then came over to me to ask where Eclipse was....she had actually picked up the book and looked at it before coming to ask me for it (I fear for the future of our country)
  • helped a very nice grandma find books for all her grandkids; she was doing pretty good until she couldn't remember how old the last one was (I got her to narrow it down to "middle school girl" who "seems to read pretty good" - I suggested The Westing Game and Redwall with gift receipts just in case)
And, once again, we have some students among the contributors:
  • at least two students/cafe-table-hogs-with-laptops complained about the lack of outlets (gee, this store was built before Wi-Fi networks were even a thought...if you'd like to contribute to the Capital Improvements fund for the store - aka BUY SOMETHING YOU LITTLE BRAT - we might be able to upgrade the wiring sometime in the next 15 years)
  • an undergrad needed a copy of The Pilgrim Hawk so she could finish her homework (we don't have a copy onhand because her professor ordered all the course books through the local indie bookstore, which is closed by 9pm on Saturday nights); when I informed her that we would need to order it, she bugged out her eyes and asked (incredulously) "But how will I get my homework done?" - I suggested she hit the library as soon as it opened on Sunday, but she didn't quite like that answer (this falls back under the categories of either a) I am not even remotely responsible for your homework or b) maybe you should get your act together before you fail out of school)

24 November 2009

Teaser Tuesday: Best Nonrequired Reading 2009

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers
Roy.  Taking a wild berry candy from my pocket I resolve again to focus on a candy under my tongue instead of on him.
~ Rivka Galchen, "Wild Berry Blue", The Best American Nonrequired Reading, edited by Dave Eggers

23 November 2009

Weekly Geeks: The Top Ten Books of 2009

Weekly Geeks is compiling it's "Top Ten Books of 2009" list and I think I'll toss in my two cents.  I'm not really waiting on any books due out in December so I think I can safely say that I can make-up my list. 

The WG staff will compile a master list to vote from after December 4; if you'd like to participate in the Top Ten list-making go to the sign-up page, read the instructions, make your list, and submit it to Mr. Linky.

Happy Thinking!  Here are my Top Ten books of 2009 (I guess they're sort-of in order):

  1. The Children's Book by AS Byatt (literary fiction)
  2. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson (crime/thriller)
  3. The Best American Essays 2009 edited by Mary Oliver (essay)
  4. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (literary fiction)
  5. Drood by Dan Simmons (fiction)
  6. Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell (fiction)
  7. The Big Rewind by Nathan Rabin (biography)
  8. Mistress of the Monarchy by Alison Weir (history)
  9. Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float by Sarah Schmelling (humor)
  10. Beowulf on the Beach by Jack Murnighan (lit crit/theory)
Obviously, this is composed of stuff I read that was pubbed for the first time in 2009; I'm sure there are a few good books I missed simply because I haven't read them, yet.

Musing Mondays: School Books

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page....  Today's question is about school days (she starts her teaching job tomorrow - congrats!):

What books did you read while in school? Were there any that you particular liked, or even hated? Did any become lifelong favourites?

I remember absolutely loathing Upton Sinclair's The Jungle because the first part freaked me out and the second part bored me to tears with all the political propaganda (I was in ninth grade).  I also wanted to tear my eyes out in American Literature; our teacher pretty much ruined The Grapes of Wrath because we had to take quizzes over the symbolism in each chapter.  Horrible.

On the other hand, school put me in touch with One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell, and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I actually have school to thank for starting me on my life-long enjoyment of Margaret Atwood's books.  My parents were readers, but didn't read much dystopic literature; I might have found Atwood, Huxley, and Orwell on my own but it would have taken longer.

22 November 2009

The Best American Essays 2008

The 2008 edition of The Best American Essays, edited by Adam Gopnik, has a very different composition from the 2009 edition, edited by Mary Oliver.  The Oliver-selected essays were on the whole quite short, a few jotted thoughts encompassing a complete idea whereas the Gopnik-selected essays are much longer, extended meditations.  I had to read a different way (if that makes any sense).

Gopnik opens the volume by defining three types of essays - review essays, memoir essays, and odd-object essays - and notes that the essay must always hybridize with other forms and genres to stay alive.  Huh.  I do think that's true and the essays Gopnik chose for this volume run to many forms including "Solipsism" by Ander Monson that falls under something more akin to an art form with words (like a letter-press broadside) combined with Word Mark-ups (very interesting).

Jonathan Lethem contributed what was probably my favorite essay "The Ecstacy of Influence: A Plagiarism" about (primarily) how art is created by riffing off extant works and current copyright law/lawsuits about intellectual propterty rights endanger that.  To make his case, Lethem includes a "Key: I is Another" at the end of the main body of the essay:
This key to the preceding essay names the source of every line I stole, warped, and cobbled together as I "wrote" (except, alas, those sources I forgot along the way).  First uses of a given author or speaker are highlighted in bold.  Nearly every sentence I culled I also revised, at least slightly - for necessities of space, in order to produce a more consistent tone, or simply because I felt like it. (p 125)
Lethem follows that up with a "Key to the Key."  It's a very enjoyable essay, meta and tongue-in-cheek at times, but right to the point as regards the limiting nature of "possessing" but not sharing a work of art.

Gopnik included a number of odd-object essays on beading ("On Necklaces" by Emily R.Grosholz), Leica cameras ("Candid Camera" by Anthony Lane), buzzards ("Buzzards" by Lee Zacharias - but also morphs into a memoir essay), and an old boarding house with its occupants ("This Old House" by David Sedaris that is both funny and sad at the same time).  As I noted with the Zacharias piece, most of the odd-object essays are crossed with memoir because each author has a connection with the object at hand; it's like Heiddegger's observation that the act of observation changes the subject (and the author in this case).  The most interesting odd-object essay came from Rich Cohen who contributed "Becoming Adolf" in which he meditated on moustache types and his experiment with wearing a toothbrush (aka Hitler) moustache.

Atul Gawande made an appearance (surprisingly, I would have thought this would be for the Science and Nature Writing volume) with an essay titled "The Way We Age Now" about the aging US population and diminishing quality of geriatric (aka Older Adult Health) medical care.  Gawande profiles Dr. Felix Silverstone, a leading researcher in geriatrics for fifty years who recently retired at the age of 82 and understands all to well what is happening to his body, health, and mind.  This was the most affecting essay in the collection, for me, because Dr. Silverstone reminded me of my 83 year old grandfather who is still fiercely independent, goes to work everyday at his lumberyard (even though my uncle "owns" and "operates" it now), drives his Caddy all over hill and dale, and is sharp as a tack.  When I get old, I want to be like my grandfather.  It is concerning that the population in the US is graying and aging rapidly but the ability of the healthcare system to continue to offer quality medical care specialized to the elderly is failing.  Very, very scary.

I'm off to my next volume in my Best American Series project.  I'm about to be aided by a massive used book buy from Alibris (free shipping from Alibris's warehouse + 15% off coupon = 32 trade paperback for less than $55; genius)

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 15/19

20 November 2009

New Moon: if you're Beth and Katharine you shouldn't read this until Tuesday!

This might have spoilers so you're forewarned.

My interest in the Twilight books and movie adaptations has diminished over time but I do have a friend or two (*cough* Jackie and Michelle *cough*) who LOVE the series...so I went to the midnight premiere of New Moon (at the loathed Marcus Theatres, as if I have any choice in venue).  They started seating at around 10:30 which made it less of a crazy mess unlike The Dark Knight release where they seated late and delayed for over half an hour while people went to the concession stand.  Aside from the insane squeakings of tweeners/teens in the audience it was pretty low key.

But the movie...I really can't get excited about it and I'm pretty "meh" about it overall.  There are vast improvements over Twilight.  The make-up was 10,000 times better because Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) no longer looks like Data from Star Trek:The Next Generation (thank you, because it was laughable during close-ups in Twilight) and all the make-up effects in general looked far better.  Ditto on the special effects (see what happens when you actually SPEND MONEY on them?).  The cinematography also improved with some beautiful tracking shots including a spinning camera effect that really does mirror Bella's sense of helplessness (bravo to the DP); it's also very 3-Desque so if you're prone to motion-sickness the shot gives a sense of vertigo but it looks great.

On the other hand, the acting is verging on the deplorable.  Graham Greene, a wonderful actor, is given absolutely NOTHING to do except stand around with a hang-dog expression - he's almost relegated to side-kick status and I didn't get that feeling for his character (Harry Clearwater) in the book.  Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, for all their hype, convey emotion by looking down to the right and squinting - is that anger? love? pain? what?  Kristen Stewart doesn't do much for me...I don't feel her character has presence on the screen.  The four high school kids are really two-dimensional (especially Jessica) and, in the case of Mike, look older than me (and I couldn't pass for high school).  The real actors finally made an appearance in Volterra (thank God, because I was reduced to Tweeting how bored I was).  Michael Sheen plays what is essentially a stock villain but he does Aro so well and Dakota Fanning, well, her ability to play creepy children really pays off in the role of Jane.  Out of all the characters and elements, the Volturi are the ones who I most look forward to seeing in the last two movies; that doesn't speak well for the rest of the bunch.

I would be less a curmudgeon about the Twilight adaptations if I didn't have to sit in a theatre with tweeners who experience orgasm when Taylor Lautner takes off his shirt (which is a lot).  It's almost like the director is trying to distract from a thin script and mediocre actors with some skin...which is a lot like porn.  Scary.  Any which way I cut it, I have two movies left in the series to endure with screaming tweens; I am actually looking forward to Eclipse* and I expect quite a lot out of the battle sequence with the baby vampires and werewolves but I'm probably going to have issues with Breaking Dawn since there were plot elements in that one I thought were garbage.

And now for some previews!
1.  It's Complicated - kinda cute-looking Nancy Meyers film starring Meryl Streep (drool) and Alec Baldwin (used to like him) as a divorced couple who start having an affair with each other
2.  Dear John - adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name *puke* with Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried; I will not see this
3.  Sherlock Holmes - gotta tell ya, I was pretty on the fence about this one (particularly Robert Downey, Jr., as my favorite Victorian detective), but this is the third and longest preview I've seen....they got me,  I will watch this
4.  Letters to Juliet - romantic comedy (?comedy) about a lost love-letter starring Vanessa Redgrave and Amanda Seyfried; this looks like a good box-of-tissues movie

And then we saw a stupid Dt Pepsi commercial that isn't funny on TV (because I've seen it a million times) but all the tweens laughed; the adults didn't.

*New Moon was actually my least favorite of the four Twilight books as far as storyline, being very much a bridging book

19 November 2009

BTT: Posterity

This week’s Booking Through Thursday question was submitted by Barbara:

Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?

As far as authors that have the "stuff" to get into the Pantheon of Dickens, Austen, and Bronte, Stephen King really leads the pack; he has professed to having Dickens as a favorite author and it shows - his characters are memorable and myriad (Carrie, Cujo, Roland, Jack, etc).  Jasper Fforde is another that I think sits right up there; in my opinion, he is the one who comes closest to the Austen comedy of manners (even though he both creates his world and comments on it to boot) and makes ample use of the ironic voice.  Toni Morrison writes some of the most heartbreaking scenes in all of literature and Margaret Atwood writes unforgettable stories.  I would put Stieg Larsson up there, too, because he has created one of the most unlikely heroines/anti-heroines in Lisbeth Salander.

As to what will be read in 100 years, only time will tell.  Authors die out and are resurrected all the time depending on trend and taste.  The feminist movement brought a number of "forgotten" female authors to the foreground (Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin for instance); even Faulkner fell by the wayside until his Nobel appeared.  I have my favorites and I'll read them and push them onto others, as long as I have breath to do so.

Hooray for Flannery O'Connor!

The Complete Stories was voted the Best of the National Book Awards Fiction for the 60th anniversary of the National Book Awards.  The Complete Stories was published posthumously (twelve of the thirty-nine stories had never been published in book form previously) and won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1972.

Conveniently enough "Literature by Women" at the Barnes and Noble Book Clubs will be reading Flannery O'Connor's The Complete Stories throughout December and January.  Hooray!  Yours truly is moderating.

I also plan to read Brad Gooch's O'Connor biography - it's been hanging around the house.

'Tis the Season: Part 1

The holiday season is upon us, more or less, with frayed nerves and odd behavior making an early appearance.  So far this holiday season we've had:
  • someone call and ask for the Cartoon Bible (actually, they wanted the R. Crumb Book of Genesis)
  • a mom whip out a travelling potty chair in the middle of the children's section of the store and seat her bare-bottomed child on it (I am not even remotely kidding - she did this at least twice before she got the hint that she should take her child to the bathroom)
  • a phone customer who asked for a book by "that tired old hag" ("that tired old hag" turned out to be Sarah Palin; I'm not a Palin fan, but that's pretty mean)
  • a very funny pair of moms ask me if The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would be over their heads (nope, I don't think so, and I sold them a boat-load of books for their kids, too)
  • a very worried customer double-check that we had a copy of Stephen King's Under the Dome on reserve for her in case we ran out (I wish we would have a run on a well-written book for once, le sigh)
  • an undergrad ask me to explain his homework assignment (sorry, dude - I am not even remotely responsible for any part of your homework just because I know who Eleanor of Aquitaine is without having to look it up)
and (because I think freak-outs are unneccessary this early in the season)
  • some lady freak-out on me - while I was helping another customer with Curious George books - and demand that I show her the Warriors "magma" series RIGHT NOW (there is no "magma" series, she needed the "manga" series and my customer was very nice about letting me get those "magma" books for the freak-out lady)
There're at least six weeks left in the holiday season so stay tuned for more strange behavior as the big day approaches!

18 November 2009

Wordless Wednesday: I actually have a picture!

Hosted by Wordless Wednesday.

*I know this is supposed to be "wordless" but think about how long it might have taken my cats to get comfortable this morning after I got up.

17 November 2009

Women Unbound Start-of-Challenge Meme

For inquiring minds:

1. What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

I think that none of us should be limited as to life choice by simple virtue of chromosome assortment.  I have two X chromosomes - meaning I am biochemically and physically capable of bearing children and displaying female sex characteristics - but that doesn't mean I can't learn complex tasks or do physically exacting tasks (being estrogen-positive I don't have the testosterone level capable of building bulk muscle so I can't quite match up to the XY assortment on sheer strength).  If I so choose I can be an aerospace engineer, a firefighter, or a stay-at-home mom.  However, on the flip side I also feel a male should have just as much choice even to the point of being the stay-at-home parent (which is still a socially discouraged role in the twenty-first century).  I have very often delighted at being the smartest person in the room particularly when that room is full of boys who think I don't have a brain because I have a heavy-duty bra size and working ovaries. 

I think feminism applies to all aspects of life from the boardroom to the home.  Aside from the biological imperative, there shouldn't be "boys jobs" and "girls jobs" - if neither partner wants to stay home and take care of the kids then they need a sitter rather than assume that one partner will stay home simply because one of them happens to be female (or male, for that matter).  Being a feminist means that I want to be respected for who I am.  I personally don't dress promiscuously, and I'm not ever going to burn my bras because I need them, but no one ever died because they saw a woman wearing a short skirt or sans lingerie (it might be aesthetically revolting but it is a free country).  Ditto on the social life; I do not sleep around because that's pretty much inviting either an STD or a pregnancy, neither of which I want, but if you're going to call a girl a slut for having multiple partners the guys can partake of that appellation, too.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Yes.  I give a lot of credit for my attitude to my father who always thought that his first-born child should be able to do anything she wants, period (which is why I know how to play baseball not softball).  He kicked my butt for not getting good grades (giving me enough rope to get a taste of failure through procrastination - thanks, Dad) but let me choose my own hobbies (I was on the dance team, band, choir, drama, show choir, jazz band, etc).  When I wanted to be a doctor my parents were behind me one hundred percent without pressure to get married and have kids rather than spend my days studying and taking care of sick people.  I didn't go to medical school (stupid admissions committee) but my parents always made it clear that nothing was "too hard" for me because I was a girl.

I'm a member of the co-ed professional chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma - right now, I serve as a district counselor - and I joined when I was in undergrad.  No one was ever valued more or less because they happened to be a girl and many of us also helped out with WISE (Women in Science and Engineering).  AXS also hosts Merit Badge days for Boy and Girl Scouts.  I had a pretty sad day at one Merit Badge program.  Another (female) member of AXS and I were taking a group of Girl Scouts through a laboratory tour, showing off all the cool lab toys, and at the end of the tour we asked who wanted to learn chemistry - all the girls in the group declined, it was "too hard" and, according to one 11-ish year old girl, for boys.  We were floored; the majority of the presenters that day were women and we had just finished off with flame-testing where the girls oohed-and-aaahhhed over the colors...too hard? For boys?  The scientist-women in the 1950s and 1960s had to endure a lot, often as the only woman in an entire lecture, to give me the opportunity to learn in an environment that's approximately 50-50 on gender and I worked my butt off to prove that I belonged in that classroom.  Now these girls are ready to just throw it away because someone told them it was too hard or for boys?  Where do these girls go to school?  I decided to throw them a curve ball and asked this group of middle-school girls who wanted to be a doctor or veterinarian (I noticed several of the girls wearing old riding boots) - and nearly every girl raised their hand.  I then pointed out that veterinarians and doctors have to take at least four semesters of college chemistry before taking entrance exams....the girls looked very thoughtful at that point and I further made the point that every "girl" they met that day posted excellent grades in chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics, that nothing was too hard.  I hope I changed a few minds that day.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

I think prejudice against education and choice are the two biggest problems women face (as evidenced by my above example).  A lot of barriers have been broken as far as workplace, benefits, education, etc., but there's still an attitude that persists that women just aren't worthy of education or high-level employment.  The prejudice that an inherent "femaleness" prevents one from performing serious intellectual work or working while bearing children still exists even in the United States; I've occasionally run into that myself (most noteably in the form of a cocky red-neck frat-boy in my organic chemistry class who boasted about being soooo smart, so much smarter than any girl, and four of us "chicks" pasted his butt on our final).  It takes culture change and while there are still males who feel threatened by intelligent, strong women that prejudice will still propagate.