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February 2010

What makes a library lovely.

Not much new in reading news today, except that I'd like to give a BIG shout-out to my librarian friend Katharine, who invited me to her library this week to see a photography display* she'd put up, and to grab a coffee. The display was beautiful, and a good time was had by all. (I also got to see two of my other favorite local librarians, Katie and Gregg, while I was there.) The library which I visited remains one of my least favorite in terms of its parking lot and design, but I felt very warmly towards it yesterday because of the three aforementioned librarians who made it just lovely, proving once again that, for me at least, the people (and not the building) make the library.

One of those fantastic librarians also noted that she had previously had a problem getting this site to accept her comment. If this has happened to you, I apologize. I think the problem is that I use TypePad to write the blog, but my domain name is hosted through another service, so if either of those pieces are being hinky for the day (which does happen) I think it gums up the commenting works. If you have regular problems with this please do let me know at realstory@tds.net; otherwise, I'm hoping it's just various technology pieces clunking up against each other periodically. Again, I apologize--I love your comments and I hate to think of someone taking the time to write one and then not having it "take."

In other hilarious, completely unrelated-to-reading news, yesterday I got a call from my cat's vet, reporting that her bloodwork, done in anticipation for a tooth extraction, was all fine. As I told Mr. CR, I'm going to ask my vet if he can be my doctor too. Of the seemingly gallons of blood and urine samples I've given the human medical establishment over the past few years, I can promise you that NOT ONCE has anyone ever called to report on them, fine or otherwise.** So if you're looking for responsive and humanistic health care, I would suggest seeing your local vet.

*I checked out a photography book called Things Once Seen, by Richard Quinney, because I loved the title, and can't wait to look it over. Katharine, you're the bestest.

**I take it back: once I got a letter listing various results from a blood test, but it was from a test taken by an insurance company, not by my healthcare "provider."


Loving Stephen Fry wherever he is.

Normally I don't have a lot of time for travel books written about the United States. But every so often I like to make an exception--particularly so when the author of such a book is British.

Fry Stephen Fry (better known to American audiences for his role as Jeeves in the BBC series Jeeves and Wooster, or for his appearances on Blackadder) set out to set foot in every one of America's fifty states, and to learn a little something about what makes each of them unique. My next research task is to track down the television series he made (on which this book, Stephen Fry in America, is based), but even if I don't find it, I've already enjoyed the book immensely.

Be prepared: although Fry seems quite fond of America and Americans, there are times when he won't pull any punches. For instance, when he spent some time in Oregon camping out with a man who firmly believes in the Sasquatch legend, this is what he had to say: "I have to spend hours camping out with Matt, listening to completely unconvincing stories of Bigfoot sightings, accompanied by weird and inappropriately tearful mentions of his wife and children. His particular blend of aggressive family sentimentality*, macho gun-toting and childish superstition is not something I find it easy to respect or like." (p. 284.)

Now that's a bit churlish. But I love churlish. I think the churl is what lends more weight to Fry's many other kind words about the majority of the states and their residents. And, of course, as Fry said I would in his introduction ("human nature, after all, dictates that you turn straight to the entry in this book that covers your own state..."), I went right for the chapter on Wisconsin and was proud to learn that he thinks that we, in contrast to the rest of the U.S., really get cheese. I'll take that.

It's a fun read, with beautiful pictures. Do check it out.

*I totally love this phrase, as aggression and sentimentality are two of my least favorite personality traits.


I should have liked it, but...

So I know it's super-cheap to have you come to Citizen Reader and have me just send you elsewhere, but today my review of Marilyn Johnson's This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All is up over at the Reader's Advisor Online, and so help me, I just don't have the strength to review it here as well.

Overdue I give Ms. Johnson points for having her heart in the right place, and I think she's a skillful enough writer (I loved her earlier book The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries), but evidently I still have some unresolved issues about librarianship that are clouding my judgement about this title. I can let you in on a little tidbit I did not share over at RAO: after reading the first few chapters, I said to Mr. CR, "God, reading this book is so boring and frustrating it's just like I'm back to BEING a librarian."

Bless him, Mr. CR knew just what I meant. Now, being a librarian was never really boring. But it could be very, very frustrating. I salute this author for her positive take on the subject, really I do, and I also salute her for talking with lots of librarians and really getting a pretty good handle on the field. But some of it was so "rah-rah!" I just couldn't take it. Sure, there'll be some friction between library staff and tech services, but they'll work through it! Sure, there's a librarian stereotype, but look at all these cool new librarians subverting it! Sure, it's kind of a drag that they're turning the 42nd street New York Public Library from a research facility to a let everyone in, check out DVDs to toddlers kind of library, but isn't it great they're throwing their doors open!

And I really had to laugh that she was surprised about poop in the library. If you aren't aware of the preponderance and variety of bodily fluids present in all libraries, well, then, you really haven't learned library culture.

In all? I think this is a book for big, positive thinkers, not small, negative thinkers like me. Small, negative thinkers who work in libraries and constantly ask questions about workflow issues, signs to help patrons rather than to "complement the library's color scheme," staff morale, and how best to train shelvers so books actually end up where they belong will not find much of interest here.


What else is there to say about Wendell Berry?

Last week I promised more thoughts on Wendell Berry's essay and story collection Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food, but I don't know that I have much more (that is coherent) to say about it.

The book is divided into three sections: Farming, Farmers, and Food. I completely loved the essays on farming, although, as with any writing that is thought-provoking, they were also somewhat disturbing. How do we turn around our frightening dependence on cheaply produced food that is bad for us, bad for the animals being raised in industrial settings, and bad for the earth? How do we start to say no to big agribusiness, and support farmers who say no to big agribusiness? How do we really affect a change without moving to the country and raising a few goats ourselves (which I really don't want to do).

The second section, on Farmers, is also very interesting, but contains essays in which Berry examines more of the nitty-gritty surrounding specific farmers who he considers masters of their craft, and how they actually do what they do. Some of these essays were a bit too detailed for me, but I did enjoy the one titled "Charlie Fisher," in which he describes the work and business of a man who responsibly cuts timber and works as a logger.

The third section, "Food," was another small wonder to behold. Here most of the pieces are not essays, but are instead snippets from Berry's stories and novels in which food and meals play a part. I loved these stories and they renewed my desire to read more of Berry's fiction (particularly his short stories). They also made me very hungry, in the best possible way. Consider:

"The Proudfoot family gahterings were famous. As feasts, as collections and concentrations of good things, they were unequaled. Especially in summer there was nothing like them, for then there would be old ham and fried chicken and gravy, and two or three kinds of fish, and hot biscuits and three kinds of cornbread, and potatoes and beans and roasting ears and carrots and beets and onions, and corn pudding and corn creamed and fried, and cabbage boiled and scalloped, and tomatoes stewed and sliced, and fresh cucumbers soaked in vinegar, and three or four kinds of pickles, and if it was late enough in the summer there would be watermelons and muskmelons, and there would be pies and cakes and cobblers and dumplings, and milk and coffee by the gallon." (p. 188.)

Oh, man, I just had breakfast, and now I'm starving again. Give this collection a try if you're already a Wendell fan; if you're new to him, concentrate primarily on the essays in the first section.


Hijacked by a great idea.

Today I was going to post more about Wendell Berry's essay collection Bringing it to the Table, but last night I was hijacked by another little book that kept me enthralled for the night (and therefore kept me from finishing the Berry).

Madison The book is titled, simply, Madison, and is by David Sakrison. This was a book I found on one of my regular toodles through the "new nonfiction lists" that my library system is kind enough to embed in their catalog on a monthly basis, so it was a nice surprise when it came in. As a Wisconsin resident I'm always interested in local histories and pictorial works about the state.

But what truly sets this one aside is its format: it's a collection of really old postcards of Madison (contributed by collector John Powell), which are then captioned with informative bits of history by Sakrison. It was a quick little book that could be read in an hour or two, but I learned a lot about the city, and I loved the old postcards. I particularly loved it when you could glean a little of the senders' writing off the front. For example:

"Arrived here O.K. Had a fine time at Madison. Went down and had lunch at this place ("Keeley's Palace of Sweets"). Am really tired so I will go to bed right away. With love, Harriet."

That's awesome. And now I totally want to eat at a place called "Keeley's Palace of Sweets."

The book is published by Arcadia Publishing and is part of their Postcard History Series. Check out their list; it's a wonderful format for learning about history.


Wendell Berry.

All week I hve been reading Wendell Berry's essay collection titled Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food. It's not a long book, only about 230 pages or so, but reading Wendell Berry always takes me some time. Or rather, I should say, I need to take my time when reading Wendell Berry, because there's only so much of his writing that I can take at a time. That is because reading him is always inspirational, humbling, and scary. And that's a lot to take in while reading.

Berry Berry is inspirational because I find what he says makes sense. In this collection, divided into three sections (Farming, Farmers, and Food), the emphasis of the chosen essays (ranging in publication dates from the early 1970s to 2006) is on why industrial agriculture is damaging our land and economy, and how small and sustainable farming practices should not only be practiced by farmers, but supported by consumers. There is nothing I can argue with in that. He is humbling because, as a small farmer himself, I think he does make the effort to practice what he preaches, and he is humbling because is writing is so clear and so beautiful.* But, as powerful and enjoyable as those first two feelings are, the end result of reading Wendell Berry is that I most often feel scared. Scared that our economy has taken us too far down the road of destroyed soil, food laden with chemicals and produced in animal factories, and oil dependence to ever go back. And, if I'm honest, scared because I DON'T WANT TO GO BACK TO THE FARM and I can't quite figure out how to live in accordance with his principles otherwise.

I think I will chat more on this one tomorrow, as I continue to read. But for today I'll leave you with the main scary thought I had, and a beautiful piece of Wendell's own writing. My scary thought was this: forget producing food in a small way; most of us, in our reliance on Costco and Wal-Mart, have given up on consuming in a small way. How do we even begin to reverse that? And now for the words of the man himself:

"But a culture disintegrates when its economy disconnects from its government, morality, and religion. If we are dismembered in our economic life, how can we be members in our communal and spiritual life? We assume that we can have an exploitive, ruthlessly competitive, profit-for-profit's-sake economy, and yet remain a decent and democractic nation, as we still apparently wish to think ourselves. This simply means that our highest principles and standards have no practical force or influence and are reduced merely to talk...

As a nation, then, we are not very religious and not very democratic, and that is why we have been destroying the family farm for the last forty years--along with other small local economic enterprises of all kinds. We have been willing for millions of people to be condemned to failure and dispossession by the workings of an economy utterly indifferent to any claims they may have had either as children of God or as citizens of a democracy." (pp. 38-39.)

Think on that for a minute or a year or so.

*I have often wondered how long it takes Berry to write one of his typical essays. They are sparkling little jewels of clarity and conciseness.


Homemade haiku day.

No reading notes today, as I am still working on Emma and am in the middle of a few other books (but not far enough along to form opinions).

However, I would like to note that I have not done very well with my project to read more poetry this year. This is not your fault--everybody made great suggestions last time I brought it up, but I have been too lazy to track them down. I will browse the poetry section of my library next time I go in, I promise.

But, on that topic, last night it felt so good to go to bed (traditionally my favorite part of the day anyway, after morning coffee) that I actually composed a little haiku to my bed on the spot. It's lame, but it'll have to count for my poetry this week.

My bed, soft and cool
When I get in. Soon enough
warm and toasty bliss.

Have a good Wednesday, everyone.


Photography by Robert Frank.

The other day when I stopped in at the library to pick up my holds, I decided to browse their new book shelves a little too. Normally I am the world's worst library browser; I can't say my local library does very many or very interesting book displays, so I've gotten in the habit of just going there to pick up books I've specifically requested.*

AmericansBut lately nothing that's been coming in on hold has been doing anything for me; hence, the idea that I might just browse a bit. And I found a great little book titled The Americans, which is simply a collection of black and white photographs that were first published in the 1950s (complete with a short introduction by Jack Kerouac**).

The photos were beautiful, and it was a pleasure just to enjoy leafing through a book and letting it soak in. I'll have to do more browsing in the future to keep finding these little gems that are good for my soul.

*I do try to keep things a bit random; I place most books on hold after perusing the library's monthly "new nonfiction books" list every month.

**I read most of the introduction without looking at who had written the introduction. By the end of it ("Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world.") I was thinking, who on earth wrote this strange introduction? When I saw it was Kerouac I just laughed. For some odd reason I love that guy. Maybe I'll try and read a little Kerouac this spring, just to feel young again.


Memoir moratorium.

Every horrible review you've read of Julie Powell's Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, is right on.

I was not a huge fan of Powell's bestselling memoir Julie and Julia; I read it mainly because I love Julia Child and I was curious about it. When I read it I thought it was easy to see that it was compiled from blog posts, and not very cohesively at that. The story was okay, but I thought it could have used a lot tighter editing.*

Cleaving So when she published this, her second memoir, I knew I probably wouldn't love it, but I actually got curious after reading some bad reviews of it. (This is why I never mind "bad" reviews. Sometimes they pique my interest more than positive ones do.) So I read a lot of it over the weekend, getting to maybe the halfway point before I had to stop. The story is, once again, fairly simple: Powell decides she wants to learn how to be a butcher, so she apprentices herself in a butcher shop a couple of hours away from her home in New York City. At the same time, she is experiencing a rocky period in her marriage--primarily because she has been having an affair (that she doesn't want to stop) for some time, and her husband knows about it.

For whatever reasons, I really enjoyed the bits where she discussed her growing mastery of meat cutting techniques. (I've been ridiculously hungry for burgers and steaks lately, which probably increased my fascination.) But the parts about her affair and marriage? Too weird for me, man, by half. When I got to the part where she went out and engaged in "the worst sex in the world with a total stranger" in order to forget her lover and then immediately texted him about it, I not only put this book down, never to return, but I have now placed a moratorium on all memoirs for at least a week. Uch. Rough sex with strangers and a foodie hook. Is this all it takes to get a memoir deal these days?

*I say this as a blogger: blog posts are not really writing, and books simply thrown together from blog posts are not really books.


Oh, so hungry.

If you have any sort of problems watching what you eat, or you're trying to diet right now, I would highly recommend NOT picking up Frank Bruni's new memoir Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater.

Bruni Bruni has been the restaurant critic for the New York Times since 2004, but this book is the much larger story of his always tempestuous relationship with food. Starting when he was very young and growing up in an Italian family that believed making an abundance of food for every meal was the best way to show your family you loved them, Bruni was a champion eater among champion eaters. Of course, then, he struggled with carrying too much weight from little on--describing with perfect accuracy how it felt to have to shop in the "husky" department.

As Bruni grew older, his unhealthy eating habits continued, and he moved through stints with bulimia and Mexican "diet pills" (also known as "Mexican speed") while he simultaneously moved through college, his journalism career, and years of not feeling good enough about himself to feel comfortable letting his boyfriends see him naked. Somewhere along the way you realize you're reading a memoir composed largely of someone's memories of how he eats, which seems like a slight subject, but there's really nothing slight about it.

I liked this one from the start, when I read the "author's note" in the beginning. I am always a sucker for an author who can nicely address the problems of writing a memoir, and Bruni has done that:

"And while none of the people, events or conversations in this book were invented, some conversational details lay beyond the reach of memory, so dialogue has been reconstructed through interviews and other reporting, and fashioned in line with what I know and remember of how the people, including me, spoke."

I also like Bruni's journalistic writing style, which always moves right along. And although it comprised less than 100 pages of the narrative, I'll admit his descriptions of his restaurant critic job were the ones I enjoyed the most. The man can describe food. At one point he actually made baguettes with jam and butter sound so good that I almost had to go driving around at 8 p.m. last night, looking for baguettes (although I know full well that a good baguette in my neck of the Midwestern woods can be hard to find).

My verdict? Read it. But DO NOT read it when you're hungry.


Informational book interlude.

This spring I'll be helping host a baby shower for a family member. This is hilarious, because I don't attend baby showers*, so I am uniquely unprepared to know what goes on at them, and what needs to be planned.

So, as per usual, I checked out some books from the library. I requested what seemed like a nice, basic title: Baby Showers: Ideas and Recipes for the Perfect Party, by Gia Russo and Michele Adams. This book has been a total hoot. Consider:

"A theme gives immediate direction to your celebration and helps to determine the guest list, the decor, the palette, the menu, the favors, and the gifts." (p. 12.)

It then goes on to list four themes: Daisy Brunch, Luncheon for Mom, Decorating the Nursery, and Heirlooms and Memories. For the "Decorating the Nursery" theme, the book suggests making hand-made invitations out of paint sample strips ("using the X-acto knife, carefully cut paint chips from paint cards. Design a pattern with the paint chips on a note card..."); the recipes included here are for such things as Smoked Salmon Bites, Blanched Asparagus with Lemon-dill Dipping Sauce, and Chilled Avocado Soup.

Tee hee. I'm thinking my theme will be "Midwestern Focus on Food Over Themes," featuring pre-printed invitations, ham buns, and some pans of bars. If anyone has any ideas for less-painful-than-usual shower games, please do let me know in the comments, would you? I don't know that I have the strength to check out any more books on the subject.

*I believe that every time a bridal or baby shower is held, women's rights take a big step backward.


The Gladwell conundrum.

Years ago, when I first read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, I really, really enjoyed it. I talked about it a lot to Mr. CR, and I recommended he read it. I also liked it because it was a bestseller and a big word-of-mouth book that I actually felt good about giving patrons at the library when they asked for it (which they did, for years and years, and were still asking for when I quit, which was several years after its first publication). Sometimes now I think I should re-read it, and see if I still find it so interesting.

Dog So it was always slightly disappointing to me that I was never really able to finish any of Gladwell's subsequent books. I started Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, and stopped somewhere in the second or third chapter, completely bored. (Mr. CR and I actually picked up an advance copy of it when we spent one vacation at BookExpo in Chicago, but Mr. CR puts a lot of faith in the process of thinking, so it wasn't really for him either.) And then Outliers: The Story of Success came out, and although I brought it home, even the thought of reading it bored me.

So why did I check out his latest book, titled What the Dog Saw? Well, for one thing, it's a collection of journalistic pieces Gladwell has done over the past few years, and I almost always enjoy essays and well-written journalism. For another, I still keep trying to understand why I haven't enjoyed all his books the way I enjoyed The Tipping Point. This book is good; I've read most of the essays (the one on the history of the birth control pill is particularly interesting, even if I don't know that I agree with all he has to say on the subject), and when I'm in the middle of a chapter, I don't particularly want to stop reading. But overall? I won't really tell anyone how much I loved this book, or how much I love Gladwell. It's due today, and I'm not done with it, but I'll be taking it back to the library without too much regret anyway. I just don't get it.

Gladwell's writing is skillful, and I don't mind that his writing is kind of "Gladwellesque"--if you didn't know who the author of this book was initially, if you knew Gladwell at all, you'd probably read a couple of the essays and guess it was him. He also jumps around quite a bit subject-wise, which I enjoy (and which is a favorite hallmark of William Langewiesche, whose style is also very unique to him, and who I never get tired of reading). But I'm just not loving it. It's a conundrum.


Free at last, free at last.

I know. One should not use the words of Martin Luther King Jr. frivolously, especially during Black History Month. But I can't help it. Yesterday I finally finished listening to Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence on CD, and all I can say about it is thank God almighty, I am free at last.

Well, okay, that's not ALL I can say about it. And my apologies to those readers who like Edith Wharton, and feel she can a) really tell a story, and b) wield language well. Those things may be very true. But I can't help it: I hate her. And I think I hate her because I hate her characters.

For those of you not familiar with the story, Wharton's classic is set in the 1870s (it was published in 1921) and concerns the upper level of moneyed New York society. The two principal characters are Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska; Newland is a prosperous and proper young man who is about to become engaged to May Welland, who is the daughter of another prosperous and proper New York family. Ellen Olenska, also known throughout the narrative as Countess Olenska, has recently returned home to the bosom of her family after leaving her scoundrel of a European husband. She is also May's cousin. Of course, Archer falls in love with Ellen, who he can never have (even if she were to get a divorce, it wouldn't be proper), and Ellen falls in love with him, but he goes ahead and marries young May anyway. Lots of portentous tragedy ensues.

Now. It may be true that the writing is beautiful, and after someone commented on that, I did try to listen more carefully to the words and sentences of Wharton's tale. But all too often the narration was drowned out as I listened and muttered "Newland, you're such a dick," "You can do better, May," or "Oh, Ellen, you're leaving forever, blah blah blah" (or countless variations thereof). Mr. CR was a little afraid of me, I think; he never likes to hear muttering coming from the kitchen. But I couldn't help it.

At the end of the day, I couldn't take the problems of rich people who have their health seriously. Good lord. Another fairly simple rule of thumb should be, if you love someone, don't get married to someone else. And if you do, don't expect me to think it's high tragedy. I'm just going to think you're a dick.


Monday odds and ends.

We had a successful weekend, I think. I enjoyed the Super Bowl, although I didn't watch the whole thing, having to switch over to Emma on Masterpiece Theatre during its last hour. I did make artichoke dip, and it was spectacular (thanks Katharine--great recipe! Marmota, now that I understand canned artichoke hearts, your recipe with spinach is the next one I'm trying). I made a total hog of myself with it. And the conclusion of Emma? I really enjoyed it. Not as much as I would have enjoyed it if PBS wasn't cheap and hadn't deleted scenes that were shown in the British version, but still...Below please find a clip from the ending with a nice extra scene between Knightley and Emma.

In reading news, I started the collection The Best Creative Nonfiction vol. 3, but I really only enjoyed the opening two essays by Sean Rowe and Julianna Baggott (about prison food and the novelization of her great-grandmother's operation of a whorehouse, respectively). I also started Malcolm Gladwell's collection of journalistic pieces titled What the Dog Saw, but was not in the mood. Finally I just gave up and started reading the actual novel of Emma, which I've never read before. (I know: gasp!) I thought maybe I should wait until after the movie isn't so clear in my mind, but what the hell. I'm enjoying it immensely anyway.


Friday odds and ends.

It's Friday, and I'm ready for the week to be over. I never, ever get cabin fever, and I think I've got cabin fever. All week I wandered around grumpy, started about twenty books, and couldn't get through any of them. My need to develop some other hobby that isn't reading is becoming more apparent--but the sad fact remains that when I don't feel like reading, I don't feel like doing anything.

But that is neither here nor there. There were some high points during the week. When my New York magazine arrived (a gift from my sister--thanks Sis; I LOVE it!) I was pleased to find that they had noted on their final-page "approval matrix" that "Jonny Lee Miller as a hubba-hubba Mr. Knightley in Masterpiece Theatre's Emma" falls in the region of both highbrow and brilliant. Hubba hubba, indeed; can't wait for Sunday night's final installment.

Austen In keeping with that theme, one of the books I didn't finish this week was the collection A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen. Some of the essays were intros that people had previously written for Austen's novels (which aren't real fun to read, separated from the novels) and some were just a bit scholarly. But I did enjoy a line from Martin Amis's essay:

"The first challenge you face when writing about Pride and Prejudice is to get through your first sentence without saying, 'it is a truty universally acknowledged...' With that accomplished (with that out of the way), you can move on to more testing questions." (p. 83.)

In other news, I read a kids' book titled Olivia Kidney, by Ellen Potter, that I had read about somewhere and thought my niece might like. I started out liking it, but then it got kind of weird. Like scary weird. I don't know that I'll want to pass this on to her. So I wondered...have any of you read this book? Even though it weirded me out, would a kid like it? Reading this book just reminded me why I was always vaguely nervous in the kids' half of the library: I have no idea what kids like, or why.

And that's all she wrote. Have a good weekend, everyone. My plans? Well, they're exciting. I'm thinking about trying to make an artichoke dip to have while watching the Super Bowl. I have never made anything with artichokes, but I am hungry for artichoke dip. Wish me luck!


Not so funny after all.

I'll admit it. I checked out Going Rogue (Sarah Palin's autobiography) from the library because I thought it might be kind of a hoot. I don't know why, really. Something about her bright smiling face on the surreal cover just gives me the giggles. (And, on the inside cover, it notes that the book design is by "Got Moxie Design." This also strikes me as funny.)

Rogue But then I got to all of page 2, when she is sharing how her daughter Piper was shown in a poster used by the organization Alaska Right to Life, and I just got sad. Primarily because I started wondering why so many pro-life people are also so pro-war. It was too depressing a thought for words, and it was really a deeper philosophical question than I wanted dredged up during the reading of what I thought might be a pretty ridiculous political autobiography.

I did persevere for about forty more pages, but I don't have much to report other than a) it's standard political autobiographical fare, with, one can only guess, massive whitewashing of Palin's idyllic Alaskan childhood, and b) it's actually not the worst-written thing I've ever read, which was a bit surprising.

I'm going to return it now, so the next person in line can get it in a timely fashion. I hope they are a member of the Tea Party, otherwise paragraphs like this are just going to make them chuckle:

"One part of athletics I really appreciated was our local chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which I co-captained under the leadership of the Wasilla Warriors' wrestling coach, Mr. Foreman. At least sixty of us met in public school classrooms for Bible study and inspirational exchanges that motivated us to focus on hard work and excellence.* In those days, ACLU activists had not yet convinced young people that they were supposed to feel offended by other people's free exercise of religion." (p. 28.)

In other Palin news, Bookninja posted a link the other day to a story about her PAC purchasing numerous copies of this book (however many copies $63,000 gets you), and paying for her photography and book tour travels.

*Because Jesus was all about the "excellence." 


You go, Jane Jacobs.

The book which has held me captive since Sunday night is titled Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Too On New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City, by Anthony Flint.

Moses The reasons I love this slim history are legion. I had never read anything about Jane Jacobs (a longtime New York City resident and activist, and author of the architecutral and urban planning classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities), but she is a fascinating woman. Through the 1950s and 1960s she fought against City Hall (and "master planner" Robert Moses, who was responsible for building numerous bridges, highways, parks, and residential buildings across the city for decades through the middle of the twentieth century), primarily to save Washington Square Park from having a highway built through it, and against the construction of an elevated ten-lane highway across the tip of Manhattan.

I also loved this book because it is a great slice of history. In a succinct 195 pages, it provides information about the history and planning of New York City, controversies about urban renewal and development, the remarkable career of Robert Moses, and the even more remarkable career and personality of Jane Jacobs. Of course I loved this book because it is about New York City, and I wish I had a cool author name like "Anthony Flint." But the front and center attraction of this book is Jacobs herself. Consider her conduct at a sham city hall meeting to gather community feedback about the proposed elevated highway:

"Though the ostensible purpose of the meeting was to collect opinions about the project, it had been hurriedly scheduled--to make sure testimony was gathered before legislation passed that required an even more extensive public approval process...The manner in which the meeting was being conducted--the microphone faced toward the audience, not the officials the residents were nominally addressing--suggested that state officials were just going through the motions...

From the seat she'd taken near the front of the auditorium, Jane Jacobs made her way up the stairs and onton the stage. 'It's interesting, the way the mike is set up,' she observed tartly as she reached the microphone. She was calm, and her expression was matter-of-fact. 'At a public hearing, you are supposed to address the officials, not the audience.'

The chairman of the hearing, John Toth of the New York Department of Transportation, bounded down from the statge and turned the microphone around. But Jacobs turned it right back.

'Thank you, sir, but I'd rather speak to my friends,' Jacobs said. 'We've been talking to ourselves all evening as it is.' The crowd roared with laughter." (pp. xii-xiii.)

From there she went on to call for a silent protest march across the stage, during which the stenographer's rolls of tape documenting the meeting were destroyed (which meant there was no public record, and the meeting couldn't be counted), called it a "fink meeting," and was arrested.

It's a great book, and it has spurred me to consider, again, reading Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I always used to shelve it at the used bookstore, and wonder if I should read it, and then for years I would shelve it at the public library and give it some more thought (it went in and out quite regularly); but it was so thick I never got around to it. Maybe now is the time.


A disappointing reading weekend.

I couldn't really find my reading groove this weekend.

First I looked at a book called How Patients Should Think: 10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Drugs, Tests, and Treatment, by Ray Moynihan and Melissa Sweet (as I firmly believe that where the medical establishment is concerned, your best defense is a good offense). It had some good information, and I liked their philosophy that "asking questions needs to be seen as an essential and valid part of seeking health care," but I just cannot read any more health or medical books right now. I will have to check it out some other time.

I also started Greg Grandin's Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, but was completely bored. I don't think it's a bad book, just a very detailed history, and something for which I wasn't in the right mood.

I also started Alison Weir's The Lady in the Tower, about the fall of Anne Boleyn, which is okay, but didn't quite hold my attention the way I wanted.

So, all in all, a meh reading weekend, and I hope yours was much better. I did start a new book last night that I'm excited about (always at the end of the weekend, I find them). Further bulletins as events warrant.