Tag Archives: books

A Girl You Should Date

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet.

Head over to NonaMerah to read a loving tribute to a girl you should date—the one who dedicates her time to books.

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Brilliant Bookish Families

Whenever I figure out that two people I adore are related, I feel pangs of jealousy for members of their family. Have you noticed all the talented families out there creating great art?

• Decemberists’ wunderkind (and Montana native!)  Colin Meloy not only has a artistic wife in Carson Ellis, with whom he is releasing a book (Wildwood) this fall—but a gifted sister as well! Recently Maile Meloy wrote a piece for the New York Times called “Reading and Its Rewards,” which linked books with bikes. A winning combination!

• If you’re not familiar with Mark Bittman, he is a New York Times columnist and brilliant food writer. Follow his blog and you will be drooling on yourself regularly—and the best part is, his recipes are usually fairly simple and able to be prepared by those of us who haven’t attended Le Cordon Bleu! His daughter Kate works for The New Yorker, and in June they produced a video together for the magazine about cooking on Father’s Day.

• Perhaps less modest than the other two families, but certainly more amusing, are the Talent FamilyAmy and David Sedaris. Individually they create very different books, David having earned his notoriety by personal essay and Amy coming to books via comedy, first withWigfield and then her breakout title I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. To date they’ve only worked together as the Talent Family once, to write the script for The Book of Liz. Independent projects aside, they often appear in one another’s work: Amy has cameoed in David’s stories and provided voice talent for his audiobook recordings; and David has contributed recipes to Amy, including instructions for the notorious “Fuck-It Bucket.” Even David’s partner Hugh Hamrick contributed endpaper design for Amy’s first book, and usually takes David’s portrait for the back cover of his books.

• The previous families are still alive and working, but the Brontë sisters were another noteworthy bookish family. Writing originally under male pen names, their novels are still considered noteworthy classics of English literature, with compelling stories that continue to enthrall readers more than a century later.

Do you know of any other families where genius runs rampant?

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Why and How I Gave Up My Books

This morning my technology class was discussing libraries and the hot topic (in publishing, anyway) of ebook lending, specifically in relation to the HarperCollins fiasco. Our professor asked the class if anyone used libraries a lot. When I raised my hand, I was put on the spot, and got to tell the story of how I made it a goal to get rid of most of my books, and strengthened my already staunch support of libraries in the process.

When I was in high school and college, I equated the size of one’s personal library to the amount of knowledge they had. Teachers and professors were extremely knowledgeable and wise, and their offices were often lined with books. Jocks at my high school on the other hand, often didn’t bring a backpack to school, their lives were so free of books—and my conversations with some of them suggested a distinct lack of knowledge. At some point while navigating high school, I decided to keep all books I had ever bought in case I ever needed to refer to them again. (“The medicinal use of nettle tea? A Midwife’s Tale talks about that! Let me grab it and look it up!”) The only book I valued so little to part ways with it before about 2007 was Alexis de Toqueville’s Democracy in America. Books had an almost mystical value, and getting rid of them was like throwing away knowledge.

After many years of acquisition, in about 2007 I had a dismal epiphany: I would never be able to move anywhere–I had too many books! Graduate school? Forget about it! Getting out of The Ghettohaus [the name of my grand estate], with its abysmally poor insulation, collapsing roof, sinking back end, lack of a foundation, mouse problems, etc.? It would be impossible to move, simply because of the sheer amount of books I owned! A friend suggested I toy with the idea of trying to sell some books to Powell’s (above), and soon I set along a new path.

Meanwhile, a love of libraries was being cultivated in my heart. As I worked as a researcher for several years, I was accessing library materials constantly. My usage ranged from checking out library books to find the exact translation of a quote, browsing titles to search for reference photos, to accessing online databases like the Oxford English Dictionary from off-site. Eventually I started checking out CDs to expand my musical horizons, and DVDs to get up to speed on the world’s cinematic classics. Later yet, when I was interested in a book but did not know if I wanted to buy it, I would put it on hold at the library in order to preview before purchasing, to ensure my limited dollars would be spent most effectively.

As I wanted at least the option of moving at some point, I decided to stop acquiring more books by instead checking them out of the library. Once I had my next step defined in my head (graduate school in Vancouver BC), serious efforts were made to sell boxes of books to Powell’s (with remainders being donated to Ledding Library for their annual book sale). Soon I discovered and started pondering minimalism literature, and expanded the downsizing to the rest of my belongings as well.

It was really tough giving up books in the beginning, as physical books are more valuable than just the information contained therein. They’re beautiful to look at and touch. Perhaps your copy is signed by the author or was given to you by a dead relative. The frayed edges of a paperback may jog special memories. Becoming Minimalist covered the sentimental issues of giving up books last August, and Rowdy Kittens covered purging of sentimental items (not just books) recently as well.

I did it in baby steps. Slowly.  It seems the more I’ve purged, the easier it has gotten. But I haven’t given up all my books yet. To date, I have sold or donated about 75% of what I once had, and hope to continue the trend when I return to Portland. The less stuff I have, the less there is to pack if I need to move, the less there is to clean, the less there is to worry about. One of my favorite things about getting books out of the library is that they’re often more beautiful than the copy I would have purchased for myself—I don’t have to store the thing and ruin it with dust, yet I can access it almost anytime I want!

As for the ebook lending fiasco, HarperCollins has nothing to fear from me. I don’t buy ebooks, I don’t borrow ebooks–the only time I have acquired an ebook at all was when it was the only available option, and free. But I do give both money and used books (to be sold for revenue) to my local library, and will continue to do so for years to come. Power to the libraries!

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Social Change Through Literature: The Jungle and Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Apparently I’m an idealist. Or a perfectionist. Or maybe they’re the same thing, applied differently.

What that means is that for a very long time, I’ve thought it important to do my part to work toward what I see as a better future. The very first book that inspired and led to a big impact in my daily habits was Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle. Here’s one of the many passages that spurred the United States to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act (among other legislation) not long after the book was released:

“The meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one—there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage. There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there. Under the system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these was the cleaning out of the waste barrels. Every spring they did it; and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and old nails and stale water—and cartload after cartload of it would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public’s breakfast.”

The book didn’t exactly make me vegetarian. But it did keep me there, with its descriptions of the havoc the meat packing industry was creating for the poor Rudkus family, recent immigrants from Lithuania just trying to survive in a new country. Whether it was an anonymous worker falling in a vat and made into lard, or poor Marija, cutting her hand and almost losing it from infection, the novel was fantastic and tawdry. It was only coincidence that I decided to read this book shortly after deciding to try vegetarianism, but it cemented in my mind that I had absolutely done the right thing.

Another book that was instrumental as an agent of social change was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I just finished writing a big paper about. At the time Stowe was writing the story, she lived in Cincinnati—right across the Ohio River from Kentucky, a major slave state. Escaped slaves using the Underground Railroad were the source of much drama in Cincinnati. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, making it a crime for anyone to assist an escaped slave, Stowe officially solidified her alliance with the abolitionist movement.

She decided to combine the political arguments of the abolitionists with dramatic and sentimental fiction. Stowe depicted her African American characters as having distinct voices and feelings, rousing empathy in the reader that they may not have had before, and influencing their stance on slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin had an immense impact in the US and around the world. Legend suggests that the book was the single cause of the US Civil War—although that makes a good story, it’s perhaps a bit simplistic.

The point is though, that stories about sympathetic fictional characters set against a socio-political backdrop is a really effective method of changing people’s minds about the world around them.

Do you have any favorite novels of social change? What books could you envision having this sort of success in changing the world today?

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Book Nerd

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Top Five David Sedaris Stories

David Sedaris makes me laugh almost as much as his sister Amy, whose book I blogged about last year. Ever since his story “The Santaland Diaries” first aired on This American Life in 1992, he has been the literary darling of NPR.

And it’s no wonder–Sedaris is deliberate about reading his work, taking detailed notes of audience reactions to consistently improve both his writing and delivery. His distinctive voice reminds many of Truman Capote, whose short story “A Christmas Memory” is often performed at theaters paired with “The Santaland Diaries.”

Here are my top five favorite David Sedaris stories. But you don’t have to take my word for it! Click on the story title to listen to David reading each piece himself!

5. “Jesus Shaves (Me Talk Pretty One Day)

At heart, this is a story about culture shock. A class full of international students learning French tries to discuss their different experiences of the same holiday, using limited skills in their new language.

4. “Stadium Pal (Appeared in Esquire)

A wish to accessorize leads David to try out the Stadium Pal, an external catheter/leg bag system.

3. “The Drama Bug (Naked)

“The drama bug strikes hardest with Jews, homosexuals and plump women who wear their hair in bangs.” As a high school theater nerd and Shakespeare-phile, this story makes me blush. Sedaris gets the details spot on, and I never get tired of listening to this piece. In fact, I even make an appearance in this story as David’s friend Lois.

2. “Poems About Dogs (Appeared in Esquire)
[Unfortunately, I can’t find a spot online to listen to David reading this one. If you ever come over to my house though, I have it on CD and I’ll play it for you!]

Sedaris has written a series of jovial poems to share the less glamorous parts of dog ownership with the rest of the world. Or maybe he just hates dogs. Either way, it’s hilaaaarious.

1. “You Can’t Kill the Rooster (Me Talk Pretty One Day)

David’s brother Paul is the star of this story, although Amy makes a cameo as well. Rather than describe it, you just need to experience it with David imitating his brother. Paul operates a website, and Amy’s book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence includes a recipe for the Fuck-It Bucket.

BONUS TRACK! Billie Holiday
David is fairly well known for his impersonation of Billie Holiday. This is a segment from another great story, “Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities” (Me Talk Pretty One Day). You will never hear the Oscar Meyer jingle the same way again.

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Summer School!

Bookish has been rather quiet the last couple of months, and might continue to be quiet moving forward. That’s because I’m preparing for some pretty big changes in my personal life, including moving to a different country(!) and starting a master’s program.

This has been a long time in the making–I was originally going to apply to the program at the end of 2007. It was at this time total lunacy started breaking out at my former employer, and if it wasn’t directly related to my job it pretty much didn’t happen–and even if it was related to my job (like keeping mentally healthy or getting enough sleep) often it still didn’t happen. Good times.

Anyway. Between the prerequisite books I’m to read before stepping foot inside the classroom in September, boning up my Adobe skillz as required, and trying to prepare for life in a new land, it is time for Summer School at Bookish HQ. (Sadly, not the kind that includes trips to Venice Beach and a German shepherd wearing sunglasses.)

Here are the books I am currently reading, or will be reading in the next two months:

Adobe InDesign CS4: REVEALED (It’s maaaagic!)
Last week I started an InDesign course at PCC, and we’re using this as a textbook. Interesting class. My mom and I thought we were choosing a traditional class over an online course, but our class is very non-traditional. Three classes–Intro to Word, Intro to Excel, and InDesign, are all being taught simultaneously. The textbook, in tandem with a PCC course packet, guide you through the work, and the instructor is there for support and grading. Our class time–three hours on Wednesday night and six excruciating hours on Saturday–is mostly just computer lab time. Attendance is not necessary as long as you’re getting your work done and are keeping in touch with the instructor so he knows you haven’t died. As my mom and I are sharing class materials and I was very sleep-deprived last Saturday, I spent a good portion of our class time napping on the bench outside our classroom.

Help For Your Shy Dog
Author Deborah Wood used to write the weekly pets column for The Oregonian. Her book seems to feature mostly moral support, rather than specific practical tips, for owners of fearful dogs. While I have not yet finished the book, my faith in working with Atticus on his fear has been renewed. I also recently discovered that Rescue Remedy is actually noticeably effective, which has definitely helped Atticus during fireworks season.

Unfortunately, Wood does not cover fear aggression very much, which is Atticus’ issue when he’s around other dogs. We still even have to keep him separated from Rain, the new puppy. He’s very slowly getting over his fear of her, but he will still growl if she gets too close to him. And because she’s a rambunctious 11 9 week old puppy who doesn’t understand warning growls, she will always get too close. They remain separated for now.

Lonely Planet Canada
About two months ago I got an email that began, “Dear International Student.” I chuckled. Yes, technically I am an international student, but not really, right?

Then a few weeks ago I was trying to wade through the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website to determine whether or not I needed to apply for a visa as a US citizen. The language was different than the legalese I was used to, and their 1-800 hotline didn’t work outside of Canada. It started hitting me: while I could be standing in the middle of Canada and not feel terribly out of my element, it turns out that yes, Canada is a different country with different laws and more confusing legalese that I don’t have a year to figure out all by myself. Now I assume that the International Student Office is going to be one of my best allies during the next two years.

Now that I have a new perspective, I need to study up. Lonely Planet guides have a great reputation for travelers trying to immerse themselves someplace else. The edition I have is not the latest, but I’ve had it for five years and it’s a good start that I don’t have to pay $26.99 to read. At some point I may also get Lonely Planet Vancouver and use them both for reference.

Editing Canadian English
Humble Canadians to the core, the authors have chosen to write a book of suggestions rather than edicts. As Canadian English is usually a mid-point between British and American English, there is a lot of disagreement even between Canadian dictionaries on spellings, uses of hyphens on compounded words, etc. Although I love style guides and this is a prerequisite book, it stirs up my fears about looking stupid by unknowingly messing up some Canadian English. Fortunately, I can switch my Mac’s default dictionary to the Canadian one–I hope this will help avoid embarrassing situations.

A favorite quote so far: “Henry Fowler declared that American and British English should not be mixed, an injunction that must leave Canadians speechless.” –Peter Sypnowich

A Confederacy of Dunces
“Like a bitch in heat, I seem to attract a coterie of policemen and sanitation officials. ”

Right now I have six boxes of books behind me, waiting to be sold back to Powell’s. The more books I get rid of, the harder it is to weed more out. My beloved set of David Sedaris books is going–serious sacrifices are now being made in my earnest effort to lighten the load.

A Confederacy of Dunces is only the second book to be fished out of the box. While I can easily get it from one of the great libraries I’ll have access to, there’s something to be said for being able to pull it out at any time for a comedy break.

Publishing for Profit
If I’m to become a media magnate in just two short years (please note: this is not my goal), I need to know big business. What would Rupert Murdoch do? Already I’ve observed how PCC, with my InDesign class, is adopting a corporate model by minimizing expenditures and maximizing profit. But how can I be the front-runner in all things profitable when I believe that minimizing expenditures also leads to poor work quality–something I abhor?

While I do not wish to become more evil, I do hope to learn some successful business tactics reading this book. As a non-profit veteran, I definitely need to be schooled on capitalism. Right now, I’m not buying it. (Literally–ha!)

Book Publishing I
Published by the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University. A book of articles by students of the MPub program about various aspects of publishing.

Basic Marketing: A Global Managerial Approach
A textbook about marketing. While I am excited to learn more about marketing, the 900 pages are putting me off a bit. While this is an older edition, I also suspect some new topics, such as marketing via social networking sites, will not be covered. Bummer.

Essentials of Accounting (Workbook)
If you know me well, you know that math-like subjects are not my forte. You may also know that when I am dreading something, I tend to put it off as long as possible. (Infer your own conclusions from the placement of this title.)

That’s the list. I’ve got two months to read five textbooks, get through my InDesign class, secure my student loans, find a place for Atticus and I to live in another country that doesn’t seem to have a lot of dog-friendly housing, and then pack up all my stuff and move there.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go take some valium…

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