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In Response to Catcalls and Car Honks: A Poem

September 23, 2009 3 comments

I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking when you catcall me or honk your horn at me.
Maybe you think you’re paying me a complement.
Maybe you fantasize that I’ll respond with a flirtatious gesture.
Maybe you like seeing me jump in surprise or flinch in nervousness.

But I am telling you right here right now:

I do not consider it a complement.
I do not appreciate you scaring me with a honk of a horn.
I do not like looking around trying to see an accident only to see your laughing face and wave as you drive by.
I do not enjoy your invasion of my space as you lean into me to whisper thinly veiled aggressive comments.
I do not savor needing to quickly decide whether to pretend I didn’t hear your yelled comment or respond by telling you to leave me alone.

I know you do not think it but:

I have a right to walk the streets of my city without being scared by a man in a car with a horn who thinks he’s all that.
I have a right to walk the streets of my city without having my space aggressively invaded by a man who thinks I should naturally enjoy him hitting on me.
I have a right to walk the streets of my city without being harassed

Regardless of what I’m wearing.
Regardless of how hot you may think I am.
Regardless of how much you enjoy making women uncomfortable.

This is mine, and every other woman’s, right. I would like you to respect it immediately please.

Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall By Anne Bronte

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

coverthetenantofwildfellhallSummary:
Cited as the feminist antithesis to her contemporary Austen’s romantic 19th century ramblings, Anne Bronte’s best-known novel presents the much more dire image of the very real risk of marriage in a time where the wife loses all her human rights to her husband. Gilbert Markham becomes infatuated with the widow Helen Graham who has moved into his neighborhood with her son, but rumors soon start to spark up around her. When he confronts her about her conduct, she shows him her diary. There he learns her travails and sufferings at the hands of her still very much alive husband.

Review:
I came to this book with high expectations. I heard of it simply as the one of the earlier feminist novels written in response to such works as Austen’s. I felt this opened the door to many possibilities, but perhaps I was thinking about this with too much of a 21st century brain. What held The Tenant of Wildfell Hall back was the relentless presentation of Helen as the picture of Christian piety. Given the fact that Helen behaves quite willfully and controversially for the time period by leaving her husband’s home to live separately from him, this was probably quite necessary for Bronte’s contemporaries to find Helen a sympathetic character. For me though her severeness sometimes had me siding with her tyrant of a husband in my mind. He calls her cold and calculating. Well all she ever talks about is living piously now to be joyous in heaven after death. I would find that cold and calculating as well.

This book does hold value for the modern feminist though if we re-position ourselves to look at it through the lens of how society at the time has messed up both Helen and her husband, Arthur. Society tells Helen that it is her job as a woman to be the pious one. Although single men may go cavorting about she must sit respectably at home or go out to supervised dances. Men may behave however they desire as long as they settle down after marriage. This belief leads Helen to make her foolish, egotistical mistake of thinking that marrying Arthur is alright for she can change him after they are married. To a certain extent Arthur makes the same mistake. He has been told the ideal wife is a highly pious one, so he marries Helen thinking she will save him when, in fact, they are the most mis-matched couple ever.

Arthur enjoys cavorting, playing cards, and drinking. Helen refuses to do these things out of piety and nags Arthur not to do them. They both come to realize they are mis-matched, but in their society divorce is a painful embarrassment to both parties. Helen doesn’t even consider it for Christian reasons; Arthur in order to save face. This leads to their gradual loss of caring for each other, although Arthur’s comes much faster and more brutally when he carries out an affair with the wife of a visiting friend.

Arthur no longer wants Helen, but she is his wife and he would be a laughing-stock if he couldn’t control her, so he starts abusing her emotionally–repeatedly telling her it disgusts him to see her pale skin, for instance. He also carries out the afore-mentioned affairs with her full knowledge and at first forbids her from having any of her own. I am not condoning Arthur’s ill-treatment of Helen. He made the situation far more worse than society alone would have had them make it. He could, for instance, have allowed them to set up separate households, which was sometimes done. He at least could have shown her the respect she deserved as a human being, but instead he came to view her almost as a hated prison guard. This would not have been the case if they could have parted ways amicably.

I must admit what struck me far more than the restrictive society was Helen’s restrictive religion. She almost constantly lives only thinking of her reward after death in Heaven. She possesses nearly no joy for her beliefs require that she squander her life away serving a man who hates her. The only reason she even leaves him for a time, relieving some of her pain, is because she believes her duty to raise a pious son outweighs her duty as a wife, so she is justified to remove her son from the soul-risking influence of his father. Helen’s faith seems to bring her no joy, but instead demand she behave as a judging marble statue.

Although The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is not an obvious feminist manifesto, it as an excellent rendition of the oppression of 19th century society on both men and women. Reading of their struggles and realizing as a 21st century observer that there is essentially no way out for either of them beautifully demonstrates how far we’ve come. Bronte’s writing style is complex enough that what could be a bit of a boring, straight-forward tale remains interesting throughout. She changes perspectives a few times via diaries and letters. She does suffer from the 19th century literature trap of overly extensive descriptions of settings, but these are easily skimmed. An excellent example of 19th century literature, I wish Bronte’s realistic work was assigned more often in literature classes than Austen’s fluffy, unrealistic drivel.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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14 Reading Habit Questions

September 16, 2009 5 comments

I’m not a huge meme person.  You won’t see this type of thing often on my blog, but seeing as how I frequently post book reviews and am a librarian,  I thought this one might be a fun way for ya’ll to get to know me.  Also it’s a nice light note before my much more serious post coming up at the end of the week.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I don’t snack every time that I’m reading then I’d be like the fattest person on the planet.  I do read while eating dinner or breakfast sometimes.  If I do snack, it’s usually chips or crackers and cheese.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I love writing in my books!  I think it’s so cool to go back later and see what I was thinking.  However, I don’t get to do it much because most of the books I read are borrowed from a library or a friend.  If I bought every book I read I’d be broke.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
I use a bookmark, usually the really cheap paper variety.  I like to see how long they last before falling completely apart.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Both!  I don’t understand not liking either genre.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
Hard copy.  I’m far too easily distracted for audiobooks.  I wind up not listening for five minutes and having no idea what’s going on.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I read whenever the opportunity strikes, so by necessity I put a book down at any point.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m always happy about what point that is.  Nothing like hitting the climax right at the end of lunch break, for instance.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
No, you can usually figure it out by context.

What are you currently reading?
Excluding schoolwork:
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
10 Dumbest Mistakes Smart People Make and How to Avoid Them by Arthur Freeman
The Creation of Psychopharmacology by David Healy
The Broken Mirror by Katharine Phillips

What is the last book you bought?
Italian Vegetarian Cooking by Jo Marcangelo (for $2.13 in a thrift store, yayyyy)

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
As is evident by the “currently reading” answer, I read multiple books at one time.  Always have. I get in different moods for different books.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
My favorite places to read are flopped out on a bed on my stomach, curled up in a chair with hot chocolate, or lying in the sun.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
I have this philosophical preference for stand alone books, because I feel this pressure from series to finish them all. Yet I wind up reading a lot of series.  There’s some really good ones out there!

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
The Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. (see!)

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
This is kind of embarrassing for a librarian, but I actually organize them based on how much I like them, so my favorites are on the best bookshelves in my bedroom, my least favorite on the crappier bookshelves in my living room.  Beyond that, I keep series together, but otherwise just organize based on size and where they fit.

*phew* Ok, there we go!  You now have some ideas as to my reading habits to keep in mind when reading my book reviews.  You now know there’s a good chance that book was read while eating crackers and cheese flopped on my bed. Or while sipping spiked hot chocolate. Either or. ūüėČ

Five Questions to Minimize Your Possessions

September 15, 2009 11 comments

I’ve been doing my best to be a minimalist for the last four years.  Most people don’t know this about me, but they do notice the results.  My friends have made comments ranging from how quick helping me move was to how does a librarian only have around 200 books of her very own?

Recently a couple of friends have told me they would love to have the organization and ease of care that comes with owning less random stuff like I do, but they don’t know how to accomplish it.  I’m actually going to be helping one of them out in person, but I thought given American’s propensity to be packrats, perhaps a blog post of my techniques might be useful to other folks on the interwebs.

In order to minimize the stuff you already own, you of course will have to sort through it.  Allot yourself plenty of uninterrupted time to do this.  Have trash bags handy for junk and boxes for donations.  I recommend doing the sort as close to trash day as possible so you can get the junk out of your house asap.  Here are the questions I use when evaluating whether to keep something:

1.  Is it actually junk? If it’s a piece of clothing, is it torn/stained/beyond repair?  If it’s a game, is it missing pieces?  If you think you can repair it, stop and think if you actually will.  How long has it been waiting to be repaired?  If it’s going to take you more than a week to get to it, toss it!

2.  Do I need this? By need I mean need as in I’ll have to go naked/starve/will lose my sanity without this.  I count clothing, bedding, and things that help me relax under this category.

3.  If I don’t need it, do I have valid reasons for wanting it? or Am I only keeping this for sentimental reasons? Things that are ok to want for sentimental reasons:  a picture, a letter.  Things that are not ok to keep for sentimental reasons:  that piece of ribbon your girlfriend tied around that bunch of flowers she gave you one time.  The key behind this logic is the minimalist mantra of quality over quantity.  You won’t lose the memory of her giving you the flowers if you throw out the ribbon any more than you did when the flowers died.  It really is just a piece of ribbon taking up space and how often do you really look at it?  In contrast, a stuffed animal she gave you that you snuggle periodically is a quality reminder of your love for each other.  See the difference?

4.  Are there negative emotions/memories attached to this item? Even if an item is useful and in good condition, if every time you see it you remember a negative experience or emotion, you shouldn’t keep it.  It just serves to bring a negative vibe to your household.  Maybe you dread opening a particular drawer because that item is in there, or a lovely painting is on display that everyone likes but you feel badly looking at it.  These are simply not worth keeping.  They aren’t improving your quality of life; they’re bringing it down.  This goes for items that predominantly bring negative emotions/memories, not that have a minor one attached that you rarely think of when seeing it.

5.  Is this a quality item? This is my final sorting step, and one that has really helped me keep items I’m prone to collect down to a reasonable number.  Remember that your possessions take time to maintain.  Items that aren’t as high-quality to you will prevent you from enjoying other items as much.  My book collection is a good example of how quality vs. quantity helps to minimize possessions.  I only keep books that I either loved or want to have around to loan to people.  Yes I love books in general, but my collection is a reflection of me.  I want to look at my bookshelves and know that I only kept around the ones that are truly of quality to me.  Otherwise it’s just collecting for the sake of collecting isn’t about the enjoyment received from the item.

After you’ve finished sorting, bag up the junk and get it out of your house.  Take the boxes of donations to the best places for them to be used.  Now you are left with only things you need or that truly bring more happiness to your life.  Put everything left away.  Don’t be afraid to reorganize as you go.  You’ll have much more free space and new ideas may present themselves.

Book Review: The Glass Castle By Jeannette Walls

September 10, 2009 2 comments

covertheglasscastleSummary:
Jeannette Walls, a successful writer for MSNBC, hid the real story of her childhood for years.  In her memoir she finally lets the world know the truth.  She was raised by an alcoholic father and an incredibly selfish artist mother, both of whom were brilliant.  Yet their personal demons and quirks meant Jeannette was raised in near constant neglect and also suffered emotional and some physical abuse.  The memoir chronicles her changing perception of her parents from brilliant counter-culturalists to an embarassment she wanted to escape.

Review:
Jeannette’s memoir is incredibly well-written.  She manges to recapture her young perceptions at each point in the story from her idolization of her father at the age of five to her disgust at her mother at the age of fifteen.  Often memoirs about bad childhoods are entirely caught up in the writer’s knowledge as an adult that this was all wrong.  While this is most certainly true, it makes for a better experience for the reader to almost feel what it is like for a child to become disillusioned of her parents.  Children naturally love their parents, and abused and/or neglected children are no different.  It is just for them instead of just realizing their parents are human like children from normal families do, they also realize that their parents screwed them over.  Jeannette subtly and brilliantly presents this realization and all the pain that comes with it.  She doesn’t want to believe her father would endanger her when he’s drunk.  She doesn’t want to believe that her mother makes her children eat popcorn for three days straight while she herself pigs out on all the king-sized chocolate bars she can eat.  Yet Jeannette cannot escape the facts.

This memoir is also different from other bad childhood memoirs in that Jeannette never loses compassion for her parents.  As her awareness grows throughout the book, she also struggles to understand how her parents ended up the way they did.  [Spoiler Warning]  A particularly moving scene is when the family goes to visit Jeannette’s father’s mother in spite of his protests.  Jeannette walks in on her grandmother claiming to be mending her brother’s pants while they are still on him, but actually groping him.  Jeannette’s reaction, after saving her brother from the groping, is to wonder if maybe this is why her father drinks so much.  Maybe her grandmother did the same thing to her father, and there was no one to save him.  Maybe these are really the demons he is fighting.  To realize this, to even care about it after everything her father has put her through is truly remarkable.  [End Spoiler]

Jeannette is an excellent writer and an incredible human being.  Readers will be astounded not only at her unique, messed-up childhood but also at how she overcame it and simultaneously maintained sympathy for her parents who so wronged her.  Jeannette is an inspiration in multiple ways, and her memoir is definitely worth the read.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Vow of Silence By Robert Laughlin

September 3, 2009 1 comment

covervowofsilenceSummary:
In an alternate universe, Karlan escapes the drudgery of his family’s farm by moving to the nation’s capital when it is discovered he is one of the few possessing a memory strong enough to join an elite group known as Datists.¬† Datists, utilizing memory techniques, are responsible for all knowledge in this society that has not discovered writing.¬† All goes well until he is assigned a specialty that wreaks havoc on his humanity.

Review:
When I first started reading this book, I was immediately struck by how much the story-telling style reminded me of European literature in the 19th century.  Less action-oriented, it is much more prone toward introspection, like Frankenstein or Dracula.  I enjoy this writing style as much as I enjoy the more modern style, so it was nice to see this in a new novel.

Laughlin does an excellent job of making the reader sympathize with someone who goes on to essentially lose his humanity.  He turns Karlan into a monster, yet the reader, instead of being horrified, understands why Karlan does what he does.  Making your main character an anti-hero is difficult to pull off, but when done well goes far in making the reader ponder things she might not have otherwise.

[spoiler warning]
I also was surprised and appreciative of the fact that Laughlin gives Karlan a chance to win back his humanity, ironically by causing a revolution by not doing anything.  Even though Karlan is left essentially alone and broken, he gets to see the revolution he helped cause transform his oppressive society into an engaging one.
[end spoiler]

Unfortunately, Laughlin’s writing style is not entirely consistent throughout.¬† Some passages are more engaging than others.¬† While most of the book flows well, parts of it drag.¬† This is Laughlin’s first book, however, so hopefully this will improve with time.

Vow of Silence is published by an indie publisher, Trytium Publishing.¬† This is not the same as being self-published.¬† Laughlin still had to sell his story to them and standard contracts are still involved, but it does mean that they don’t have as many resources as mainstream publishers.¬† This means that the binding isn’t as strong in the book, and the type-set is a bit odd.¬† However, I doubt that a mainstream publisher would have given this work a chance, and it is a great story.¬† I encourage you to buy a copy and support indie publishing if you are interested in reading the book.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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