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November 2012

Take that, The Help.

Remember when Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help was all the rage?

Personally, I remember trying to force my way through the first fifty pages, and then tossing it away in disgust, wondering, once again, how a white woman got away with* writing such terrible, stereotypical dialect.

Well, if you didn't care for that book (or maybe if you did, and you're looking for a different perspective), read bell hooks's elegant takedown of it** (and others of its ilk).*** It's everything I always wanted to say about The Help, except that she put it way, way better than I ever could. (One of my favorite bits? "hooks took aim, specifically, at fashionable best-selling novels that romanticize the idea of inter-racial sisterhood and have reduced the idea of feminine solidarity across cultures into light, feel-good sentimental tripe.")

That is all. Now get thee home and read some Shirley Jackson so you're all ready for next week's Book Menage.

*Got away with? More like made out like a bandit with.

**Thanks to Bookslut for the link.

***To be clear: the article is actually a journalist's article about a talk given by bell hooks on this subject.

Behind the magic that is Citizen Reader.*

Normally when I talk about books here, I do try to put my thoughts in some sort of coherent order. When I had more time on my hands, this was a lot easier--not only because I had more time to write in general, but also because I could do so in a more timely manner. Lately, I keep coming up against the Overdue Wall--even when I have books laying around for three four-week loan periods (almost three months, which is REALLY long enough for anyone to keep a book from the library), I still don't get them read and then written about before they have to go back to the library. This just happened to me with Pat Conroy's quite interesting book-about-books, titled My Reading Life. I read this one over the course of two months or so, and then left it around for a month thinking I would write about it here, and then, boom, it's overdue and I had to take it back.

My Reading Life
by Pat Conroy

So what I do lately is type a few brief notes about the books into my blog software (so I can take them back to the library), and then later I come back and try to make sense out of them. But today I'm even running out of time** to form the notes into coherence, so I thought I'd just let you see my initial jottings about it, which are below. If I ever get more organized I promise this sort of slapdash blogging will stop.

Here's the jottings:

Too sappy and sentimental for me, but he's sappy about books and reading, which I can forgive.

At least talks about all aspects of books and reading--being introduced to books by his mother and some favorite teachers; teaching books; writing books; selling books.

Was kind of a nice comforting read to dip into at night--not real challenging.

Am not interested in his fiction (Prince of Tides, etc.)--will probably be too sentimental, too Southern, neither of which appeal to me?

p. 84: "I grew up a word-haunted boy. I felt words inside me and stored them wondrous as pearls. I mouthed them and fingered them and rolled them around my tongue. My mother filled my bedtime hour with poetry that rang like Sanctus bells as she praised the ineffable loveliness of the English language with her Georgia-scented voice. I found that hive of words beautiful beyond all conveyance." Now that's a little much for me, taken all at once, but read chapter by chapter it was actually a little something different.

Now, if you'd like to read an actual review of this book, this might be more helpful to you.

*This title, obviously, is meant ironically.

**And I'm really not a very busy person. How do people with multiple jobs and multiple kids and houses they actually clean and health problems and god knows what else do it?

It's New York Times Notables time!

And no, I'm really not that excited about the announcement of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year. I'm mainly amused because every year when this list comes out I like to play a little game I call:

"How Lowbrow Am I?"

This is in honor of the fact that, even though I do a lot of reading, I read very few books that are considered "notables." The top score possible, of course, is 100, which would mean I am, in fact, very highbrow. But what did I score?


Holy cow, that's embarrassing. My score is usually low but that's a new low, even for me. (I should have checked before starting this post!) And what's even more embarrassing? The one book I've read on the list is a novel, Richard Ford's Canada. (And I did enjoy it.)

However, I am going to award myself two half-points (for a grand total of 2!) for two other titles: Paul Tough's How Children Succeed, which I read half of before stopping (I thought it was rather poorly done, frankly, more on this later) and Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist, which I didn't read at all, but which I did note would probably pop up on lots of "Best of" lists this year.

The rest of the list? I've got to tell you: meh. There's like three titles on it about the Obamas, for one thing. After that election year, who could stand to read three more books about the Obamas? Not me. So, I'm sorry, but you'll just have to call me your friendly neighborhood lowbrow (VERY lowbrow) nonfiction book blogger.

Why does the world exist?

It's depressing, but today all I have to offer is yet another post about a nonfiction book I couldn't finish (and barely got started). Sometimes it seems like I'm not finishing a lot more nonfiction books than I'm finishing, but that does happen quite a bit. The book I couldn't get into last week was Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?

It's supposed to be a really good book, and it's gotten a lot of great reviews*, but frankly, like most big philosophical questions, Why Does the World Exist? is not something I care all that much about. And to me, that makes this book somewhat of a tough slog. This is the prologue, in its entirety:

"Prologue: A quick proof that there must be something rather than nothing, for modern people who lead busy lives.

Suppose there were nothing. Then there would be no laws; for laws, after all, are something. If there were no laws, then everything would be permitted. If everything were permitted, then nothing would be forbidden. So if there were nothing, nothing would be forbidden. Thus nothing is self-forbidding.

Therefore, there must be something. QED." p. 1.

Christ, who actually has the time for stuff like that? If there's nothing, would there be words to be all cutesy with, like in that paragraph? I think not. So, although I'm sure it will show up on many "Best of..." book lists for 2012, I'm probably not ever going to read it. QED that.

*Even this review in the Christian Science Monitor is mostly over my head, but I still enjoyed it, particularly where its author discusses how one of the ideas that seems to bother Holt (the universe existing simply as a "brute fact") doesn't really bother the reviewer all that much.

Book Menage reminder: Shirley Jackson edition.

Happy Monday!

Just a little reminder today that our book menage starts next Monday, December 4. We'll be reading your choice of books by Shirley Jackson--fiction like her story "The Lottery" or We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and nonfiction like her books Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons (or the biography of her by Judith Oppenhemier, titled Personal Demons).

Join me next week for a discussion of all things Shirley Jackson--and invite your friends! The more the merrier.

Fiction Interlude: Tepper Isn't Going Out

Well, I said I was probably going to re-read Tepper Isn't Going Out, when Calvin Trillin won the 2012 Thurber Prize for Humor, and I did. This marks the third or fourth time I've read this novel, and it never fails to make me smile.*

Murray Tepper is a simple man**, who asks simply to be left alone as he sits in his parked car and reads the paper. After all, he's in a legal spot and he's put money in the meter. So how does he become a magnet for the city's citizens, who start to show up wanting to discuss their problems and life in general with him? How does he become the target of the city's megalomaniac mayor? It'll only take you 213 pages to find out, and I think you'll enjoy the ride. Do give it a try; here's a quote from the first page to give you the flavor of the thing:

"Murray Tepper looked up from his newspaper to see what was happening. Tepper was sitting behind the wheel of a dark blue Chevrolet Malibu that was parked on the uptown side of Forty-third street, between Fifth and Sixth. Across the street, an argument was going on between an intense young man in a suit and the peddler who set up a stand on Forty-third Street every day to sell apples and bananas and peaches to office workers. Tepper had seen them go at it before. The young man was complaining about the price that the peddler charged for a single banana. The peddler was defending himself in an accent that Tepper couldn't place even by continent." (p. 3.)

This year I'm thankful for great paragraphs like that. And a great many other things besides, including my many friends to converse with here. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

*And also to make me hungry for New York deli food, not to mention hungry to visit New York City again in general. Although I am aware (and sad that) they are having a rough autumn in New York.

**Or is he? Read the book to find out.

Nonfiction is a tangled web, indeed.

Questions surrounding Dave Eggers's bestselling investigative/character portrait Zeitoun just keep coming.

If you'll remember, this was a big title a few years back (it's about a man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who was wrongfully imprisoned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina), and got a lot of good reviews.  The proceeds from it were also supposed to go to the Zeitoun Foundation, whose mission, in part, was to fund Katrina recovery efforts. But recently questions have been asked about where the Foundation has been spending its money, and more disturbingly, Abdulrahman Zeitoun has been charged with plotting to kill his wife, their son, and another man.

And now Dave Eggers, the author of the book, is seemingly trying to run away from questions about it. This makes me sad, as I have always been a Dave Eggers fan (even though I don't get most of the content on his humor/publishing site McSweeney's). Sigh.

It's all a good reminder that nonfiction can be tricky. Even when it's not being actively fabricated (as has been happening, seemingly more and more), what's "true" in nonfiction at one point in time may seem not so "true" (or at least not so unbiased) in light of later events and revelations. Nonfiction is, after all, written by and often focused on people, and people are fallible. This has never particularly bothered me (I have a fairly fluid concept of "truth," maybe from reading a lot of nonfiction?), but it does bother me that Eggers won't even discuss the topic. No harm no foul, Dave, but let's hear more about how this story has developed. THAT would be good nonfiction--recognizing that true stories do not end when you're done writing the book about them.

Happy holiday shopping season!

I know: puke. I was in a store the week before Halloween and they already had holiday decorations up, which always just seems really wrong. And this year I'm hearing that stores are dispensing with Black Friday opening times of 2 or 4 a.m. and just opening up on Thanksgiving night? Ridiculous.

But you know me, I'm part of the problem, not the solution. As this season creeps up on us (particularly Cyber Monday), I thought it might be a good idea to offer a small, hopefully-not-too-obnoxious reminder that if you do any shopping online this year, please consider doing so by stopping here first and then using my affiliate links to Powell's Books or to Amazon. You can use the links in this post, or the two links that are permanently at the top right in my sidebar. If you click through on those, anything you purchase in that session will yield a small kickback to me, which I primarily use to support this site's hosting, etc. In addition, all of my title links in my posts go through to Powell's; if you use one of those, again, anything you buy in that session (doesn't have to be the book whose link you followed) will be credited to me.*

And that's the last you'll hear from me on the subject for months--I might do reminders quarterly, because that's the sort of mercenary I've become--but tomorrow, back to regularly scheduled programming. Thank you in advance, and thank you in particular to readers who have already shopped those sites after clicking through here. Your friendly neighborhood nonfiction ranter really, really appreciates it.

*If you'd like to patronize other great sites with similar affiliate links, you should know that The Millions, Bookslut, and Bookshelves of Doom are all great book sites to support too.

UPDATE: Would anyone who views this site on an Apple computer please comment and let me know if you can or can't see the fairly large Amazon graphic/link near the top of the right sidebar? A reader let me know they can't see that graphic, and the only thing I can figure out is that I think they use an Apple. I use a PC so it's hard for me to check that! Thanks so much.

National Book Award news.

Meant to post this yesterday, and forgot: Katherine Boo's travel/memoir/investigative work Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity has won the National Book Award for Nonfiction (Louise Erdrich won the prize for fiction, for her novel The Round House).

I have no opinion on this, save to say I've had Boo's book home and just couldn't find the interest to read it. It is supposed to be very good, though.

In other hilarious nonfiction book news, Paula Broadwell's biography of David Petraeus, All In, will be available in paperback on 12/24/12. Wonder what all this* will do for sales?

*By the way, I am LOVING this story. It's like my Christmas present, only early. Every day it gets a little stupider: Generals sleeping with their biographers! Generals emailing socialites! FBI agents sending out shirtless photos! Honestly. You couldn't write this stuff.

Here's the problem with True Crime.

There's just no way to say to anyone: "Hey, I just read this unbelievably good book about Jeffrey Dahmer."* The book could indeed be very good. But once you insert "Jeffrey Dahmer" into any sentence, let's face it, the gut reaction "ick factor" is going to scare a lot of people away.

My Friend Dahmer
by Derf Backderf

So, I'm well aware of what you might think of me when I say this: I just read this unbelievably good book about Jeffrey Dahmer.

The book in question is Derf Backderf's graphic novel/memoir/true crime title My Friend Dahmer. Backderf attended high school in Ohio with Dahmer in the 1970s, and knew him as a strange guy who went from flying way under the radar to adopting a strange persona based on speech and movement tics (some thought he was imitating a local interior decorator, a businessman who suffered from cerebral palsy, while later it was thought he was perhaps imitating his mother, who suffered from seizures). Backderf and his friends even were part of something they called the Dahmer Fan Club, in which they egged him on while he did his persona, and who sneaked him into a variety of club and activity (to which he did not belong) photos from the yearbook. So this is not just some, "Hey, I went to the same high school as Dahmer, how weird is that" anecdotal memoir.

It is a memoir, so of course it is told from Backderf's point of view, and for many of the scenes portraying Dahmer's inner and personal life he had to depend on other sources, like later confessions of and interviews with Dahmer. But it's done very well, and the fact that it is in graphic novel format makes it all the more disturbing. In a way it's the best possible format--it allows the story to be read quickly, so you don't have to spend a lot of time in the story**, and it also sets the right tone. Dahmer's huge glasses, for instance, are often drawn throughout so they obscure the reader's view of his eyes.

Like most good True Crime, it'll make you think. Particularly when you learn things like Dahmer actually talked his way into a guided tour of Vice President Mondale's office for him and his friends when they were on a school trip to Washington, D.C. Dahmer and Walter Mondale in the same room: it boggles the mind.

*Unless that someone is my brother. I knew he had read Lionel Dahmer's strange but compelling memoir A Father's Story, so I knew we could discuss it.

**I think this is a large part of True Crime's appeal, actually. It often is very quickly paced, which is good, so you don't have to live with the stories too long.

Nonfiction I Didn't Finish: October 2012 edition.

It has come to my attention recently that I just simply no longer have the time to finish every nonfiction book I start. This realization has been a long time in coming, and it still bugs me. But what can you do?

Well, you can offer posts explaining what you're putting down and why. For the month of October, these were the books I picked up for some reason or other, tried a few pages or chapters of, and then just put down (or, more accurately, took back to the library):

Steven Rinella: Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter

This one hurts me, because I LOVE Steven Rinella. I totally enjoyed his book The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine, and I even read and liked American Buffalo, which I expected to be totally bored by--I just like Rinella's writing, and it doesn't hurt that he's a nice little piece of eye candy.* This new book is an examination of his childhood and development as a hunter, and his continuing lifestyle of killing the meat his family eats, even though he lives in Brooklyn. There's a great section of pictures in the middle, all of which I perused, and the writing is good (I still managed to read about 50 pages, even though I knew I probably wouldn't stick with the whole thing). But I'm just not interested in hunting (as such) and never will be. I am a meat eater and am all for knowing more about where your food comes from, but I grew up on a farm and have actually taken part in the butchering** of animals, so I already KNOW, trust me. Oh, that is something else to mention: don't give this one to readers you suspect might be squeamish about the details of butchering animals--Rinella doesn't skimp on any of the details.

Janet Groth, The Receptionist

Groth's memoir relates her many years of service as a receptionist at The New Yorker magazine. I just couldn't get into her story, and found her voice kind of boring, although I did read the chapter about her and Joseph Mitchell (the author of Up In the Old Hotel, and an author I love).

One funny anecdote Groth related was from her initial interview with Miss Daise Terry (who was in charge of secretarial personnel): "She said, 'Now, as a midwesterner, you have better sense than the Westchester County and Connecticut girls who come through this office. I always have to take them in hand and give them a stern talking-to about their behavior and conduct." p. 3. Ha. But the amusing bits were just too few and far between to keep me reading this one.

RothbartDavy Rothbart, My Heart Is an Idiot: Essays

Just couldn't get past the first essay, where he and his brother take advantage of phone calls to their deaf mother, which they have to interpret for her, although she has her laugh at them in the end. I've read mixed reviews of this one, and just couldn't get into it, although I enjoy Rothbart's FOUND! collections. Also: I think the publicity photo of him at the right is just ridiculous.

So: My question for you is, has anyone out there read any of these, and care to share your opinions?

*Damn--later pictures in the book reveal both his wedding ring and his wife. What Mr. CR would make of my habit of scanning left hands for wedding rings, I don't know.

**"Butchering" is such a scary word. Please be assured my family did all they could to make the process as quick and humane for the animals (if not for us--it's hard work, and scary, when all of the members of your family are in one place, tired, punchy, and holding sharp knives) as possible.

A different type of "inspirational" book.

I have been thinking about my anti-The Shack rant on Wednesday, and, particularly after a kind reader suggested to me that yes, there were problems with the book, but there was still stuff there, particularly about the human need for independence (and how it sometimes gets us in trouble), that they could "take away" from the book and from which they could learn.

So I have been thinking that writing the rants is fun, but perhaps it would be more helpful to consider what type of book The Shack is, and if there are any comparable books that would be, you know, slightly better (and perhaps even free from dialect and obvious conclusions painted up as revelations).

So: Has anyone out there read any "Inspirational" books that were helpful to you, or books that you found inspirational, even if they were not marketed as such? What were they, and how did you find them helpful? Let's start a list so I am better prepared to offer alternatives to The Shack, rather than just ripping it up and down.

I'll start us off:

I found Norman Maclean's novel/memoir A River Runs Through It and Other Stories inspirational for its theme that you can love completely without complete understanding. I always remember that with people I like, but sometimes I forget it with people whom I don't like and with whom I don't agree on many issues. And yes, I know some people find this book boring because it is about fishing. But I really don't know how you could fault Maclean's writing skills.

I read it so long ago I forgot what I liked about it, but I remember thinking that C.S. Lewis's slim nonfiction volume A Grief Observed, about the dark period he went through after his wife, Joy Gresham, died from cancer, was very thoughtful.

So? What've you got for me?

The Shack, oh my God, The Shack.

There are certain books that I avoid reading simply because everyone is reading them, and sometimes I want to be a book snob. One of those books was William P. Young's Christian fiction mega-bestseller The Shack.*

When I worked at the public library, this title was huge. And then my dad read it, and loved it, and for years now I have had to listen to him ask, "Hey, have you read The Shack yet?" This year I found out my sister had started it, so because I could care less if I'm left out of something that the rest of the world is talking about, I don't like being left out of something that's being read and discussed in my family. So I requested and got it from the public library.

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, oh my God. What a piece of crap. I'm sorry, really sorry, if you read it and liked it and are offended by me saying that. Most of the American book-buying public obviously really liked it, and so did my dad (who is usually a pretty discerning customer when it comes to books--he's the one who first turned me on to Richard Adams's novel Watership Down, after all), so clearly I'm the outlier here.

The book starts with a page-turning feel. The protagonist, Mack, is caught in an ice storm at his house, and when he goes to check his mail, he finds a note in the mailbox that reads "It's been a while. I've missed you. I'll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. -Papa." Mack's wife and family are out of town, and Mack doesn't know what to think of the note. It's painful on several levels--he thinks "the shack" being referenced must be the one where, years earlier, a family tragedy had played out: the abduction and murder of his youngest daughter, Missy. He also knows that his wife refers to God as "papa." Could God be so cruel as to be inviting him back to the shack where he found evidence of all that is evil in the world?

So he goes to the shack, where of course he finds God is waiting for him, in the form of three persons, ready to talk to him about what happened to Missy and Mack's own relationship with God. And heaven help us, once it hits the chapters and chapters of God (in various forms) talking at Mack, does it get boring. Whoever has referred to this book as a story-driven narrative is way off. It is basically a Christian fable attempting to answer the age-old question "why do bad things happen to good people?"**

All of that said, I DID get a lot of laughs out of this book, which I don't think was the point, but what the hell, I'll take laughs wherever I can get them. Most of these laughs started when Mack first meets Papa-as-Three-Entities. The first is described as a "large beaming African American woman," and when Mack meets all three of them at once he asks if there are more of them, and this is what happens:

"The three looked at one another and laughed. Mack couldn't help but smile. 'No, Mackenzie,' chuckled the black woman. 'We is all that you get, and believe me, we're more than enough." (p. 85.)

Really? "We is all that you get"? Dialect from God? Can authors really get away with that sort of thing and still become mega-huge bestsellers? Evidently yes.

But I got an even bigger chuckle out of Mack meeting Jesus:

'"I guess I expected you to be more,' be careful here, Mack, 'uh...well, humanly striking.'

Jesus chuckled. 'Humanly striking? You mean handsome.' Now he was laughing.

'Well, I was trying to avoid that, but yes. Somehow I thought you'd be the ideal man, you know, athletic and overwhelmingly good looking.'***

'It's my nose, isn't it?'

Mack didn't know what to say.

Jesus laughed. 'I am Jewish, you know. My grandfather on my mother's side had a big nose; in fact, most of the men on my mom's side had big noses.'" (p. 111.)

Really? A big Jewish nose joke? Can authors really get away with that sort of thing and still become mega-huge bestsellers? Evidently yes.

WOW. And the laughs kept coming, all the way to the end. And here's where I have to give you the big *****SPOILER ALERT*****--just in case you're still planning to read this one. In the beginning of the story, we learn that Missy is abducted on a family camping trip with Mack and two of his other kids. He and Missy are at the campsite while the other two are canoeing on the lake, and when Mack looks at them, his daughter Kate raises her oar to wave hello, which makes their canoe capsize, so Mack has to rush down to the lake and save them, leaving Missy alone at the campsite. When they return she is gone. Fast forward to the present, where Mack's wife Nan and he are struggling to understand why Kate is showing signs of emotional distress and acting out. At the very end of the book we learn, as God tells Mack, that Kate--get this--feels guilty for tipping the canoe, which makes her responsible, she feels, for Missy's abduction and death. Mack is shocked to learn this. THAT is the big reveal? You're telling me this idiot needs God to help him get to that conclusion? Heaven help us all.****

*No affiliate links to this book; I really, really don't want you to buy it. Check it out from the library if you have to.

**Is there really any satisfactory answer to this question in our mortal sphere? Even if you accept that God didn't cause the bad thing, does that make it any more understandable? Even if you forgive the bad things, does that make them understandable? I guess I personally feel that's one of those questions no one's ever going to answer for me satisfactorily, particularly Mr. William P. Young.

***Why on earth would anyone think this? Was Jesus described in the Bible somewhere as a smoking hottie, and I missed it? The fact that this Mack person obviously associates holiness with hotness really makes me dislike him.

****I kept telling all these stories to Mr. CR, whose only reaction has been to say "Is that book still in our house? Can you get it out of here please?"

How am I supposed to kick my Daily Show habit this way?

The lovely author Jon Ronson of such (funky and completely enjoyably weird, or weirdly enjoyable, whatever) titles The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry was on The Daily Show last week.* He's adorable, and love that accent:

I have decided I have to stop watching The Daily Show online, I just don't have the time to spend. But it's going to hurt, especially when Stewart hosts authors like Ronson. And also this Lewis Black segment, which is emphatically not suitable for work, but is HILARIOUS.

*I should add Ronson has a new book out, titled Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries. Can't wait to read it!

Update: Here's another interview with the lovely and talented Jon Ronson, at The Millions.

Is your cat plotting to kill you?

I am a fan of Matthew Inman and his site The Oatmeal, and I heartily enjoyed his first book, 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (and Other Useful Guides)

So when I saw that he had a new book out, How to Tell if Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You, I had to get it from the library. It was funny--and I do like kitties, and I rather suspect mine IS plotting to kill me (sometimes, anyway, when I don't feed her fast enough)--but it wasn't as good as the first book. I like kitties, but this was almost too much kitties; I rather preferred the first book where a variety of subjects were on display in the cartoons.

I know it's just a book of cartoons, but this one felt very slight. There were lots of full-page panels that could have been smaller and fit on fewer pages, and I'll admit his The Bobcats series is not my favorite (and it comprises a fairly good-sized chunk of the book). But still? Good for a laugh, and a nice quick read.*

*And Mr. CR did enjoy the illustration of two kitties riding bunnies in a jousting contest. He likes the highbrow stuff like that.**

**I just looked at the book again, to find said illustration of cats riding bunnies, and I must say: Inman draws the cutest kitties imaginable.

Another shameless "I heart Matt Taibbi" post.

I know, I know, you're probably a bit tired of hearing me bang on about how much I love Matt Taibbi.

But I do.*

Do consider reading his latest at Rolling Stone, Hurricane Sandy and the Myth of the Big-Government-vs.-Small-Government Debate. And if you don't have time to read it, just read one of my favorite quotes from it:

"In the abstract, most Americans want a smaller and less intrusive government. In reality, what Americans really want is a government that spends less money on other people."

Amen, brother. That's one of those quotes I wish I could just print out on a notecard, and silently hand to people when they want to engage me in any sort of political discussion.

*And I hope he and his are safe--sounds like he lives in Jersey City, which was hard hit by Sandy.

Perhaps the most perfect* passage in a novel ever.

In the Language of Love
by Diane Schoemperlen

This past summer I had an urge to read more fiction, so I did. And one book that I had to work on for quite a while, but which ended up being great, was Diane Schoemperlen's In the Language of Love: A Novel in 100 Chapters.

It's written in a unique way--each chapter is headed by a word, and the one hundred words Schoemperlen used are "the 100 stimulus words from the Standard Word Association Test." So each chapter has a theme, of sorts, and the story unfolds from there. Her main character is a woman named Joanna, and the story follows her from childhood, through lovers and building her life as an artist, and continuing on into marriage and motherhood.

It took me a long, long time to get into it--for a while I only read a chapter or two at a time--but towards the end I couldn't put it down. I've been a fan of Schoemperlen's (and: she's Canadian!) ever since I read her novel Our Lady of the Lost and Found: A Novel of Mary, Faith, and Friendship, and now I'm going to save the rest of her novels and short story collections for treats to be enjoyed some day in the future.

I bookmarked so many parts of this book,** but the part I've quoted at length below was too perfect not to include. Tell me if you think so, too.

"Men, she has observed since Samuel was born, can only do one thing at a time. They graciously offer, for instance, to watch the children one evening while you go out for a drink with your friends. You are very grateful because you need a break. You dress up a little, put some makeup on even, and those new earrings you've been waiting for a special occasion to wear. You are humming as you leave. Husband and children wave happily as you back out of the driveway. You have a splendid time and are home by ten o'clock, just as you promised. Husband too has done exactly what he promised: he has looked after the children. He has not done the dinner dishes, put away the toys, taken out the garbage, swept the kitchen, wiped the toothpaste blobs out of the bathroom sink, or picked up the newspaper which is spread all over the house. He has certainly not cleaned the oven, baked banana bread, or put in a quick load of laundry. He has not even put away the milk. He is sitting in front of the TV watching the news and drinking a beer with his bare feet propped up on the coffee table. To get comfortable, he has had to wedge them around a pile of comic books, three dirty juice glasses, a soggy bowl of Froot Loops, and a blue teddy bear. He is pleased as punch. He says he does not understand what you're mad about as you fling your fancy earrings onto the windowsill and run the hot water into the sink as hard as it will go." (p. 335.)

*If your definition of a perfect passage is a passage that makes you go, holy shit, that is IT exactly. I mean, like that is scary how right on it is. Although, in all fairness, Mr. CR usually does put away the milk.

**I liked this part too: "She finds herself praying a lot more than she used to. Her prayers now are about warding off losss. She is no longer dealing with God for gain. She is no longer worried about how to get more but how to keep from losing all that she has got." (p. 269.) There is something so interesting about that, so thoughtful. I found the entire book to be such a great mix of thoughtful and exasperated, which to me (and perhaps Schoemperlen would not like this thought, or agree with it) is such a womanly mix.