..if it didn’t hurt anyone, would you lie

to get your book picked by Oprah?

I’m reading A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. It’s an awesome book. It’s really really good. The scandal is that he sold it as a memoir and it was in fact not based on his life.

Oprah picked it, making Frey (or at least his publisher) a lot of money. Then someone looked into the facts and discovered that the stuff in the book was  not stuff that happened to James Frey.

I was all outraged at the time. But now i’m reading it…and it’s a great book.

Would i lie to get my book published and subsequently picked by Oprah?


AWARD winning

As anyone who reads this blog knows, reading is a vital part of my life. Therefore, so is the library.

I love the town I live in, but it has a woeful library. It’s very small. I suppose the real readers in the town have their needs met by the libraries at the colleges. I’ve been in the town for three years now, used the inter-library loan system a number of times and haven’t quite exhausted all the books yet. But I was getting frustrated and feeling confined when certain books I had in mind were not at hand.

It was a relief to find out there was a reason. The library arranges its books into categories, and some of these were unexpected. Fiction here and non-fiction on the other side, okay. I expect that–Dewey system of decimation and all.

I had sort of figured out that there was a special section for mysteries, and for science fiction. Don’t read much of either, I just realized that there were several rows of shelves that came after the ‘z’s in the fiction section.

What I didn’t realize until about a month ago, is that they have a special section for “Classics.” A ton of books I had previously been unable to locate are in that section. Unfortunately, it’s really small. Plus, I have a problem with this arbitrary dividing line. What criteria puts these titles here and those over there? Books want to commingle, and it’s a wonderful surprise to happen upon a great book while simply browsing the shelves. I think putting a special section in for “Classics” places unecessary barriers and/or pretensions on the books and the readers.

My literature professors would refer to these as the canon, which was a derisive word for the most part. I would like to be derisive too, and I guess I am being derisive. But I’m also being a hypocrite at the same time, because 95% of the time, I really really like the books that are considered “Classics” or part of “the canon”.

I recently finished reading Dr. Zhivago, a tough and rewarding book. It’s a book I should have purchased, because it is very hard to read in the time alloted by the library lending rules. I had to check it out twice, and even so I owe some money to the library. I had to fall back on skill I learned in college, to plow through a book to get to the end by a deadline.

So naturally, I was ready for a little mind candy after I finished. Something pleasing and moderately mind-expanding, not mind-blowing. No 500+ page tomes this time around. After remembering that this can be harder to achieve than it looks, I found a few.

I remembered I’d been wanting to read some Jhumpa Lahiri, who has won some prize or other.  Oh, the cover tells me: Interpreter of Maladies- Winner of the PULITZER PRIZE.

I’d been running into some pulitzer winners recently. I read Gone with the Wind earlier this year, and The Known World a couple years ago. Now, I’m almost done with Interpreter of Maladies.

The Pulizter for novels (now called Fiction), has been around since 1917 and it’s strictly American. Including the ones above, I have read these Pulitzer winning books:

  • The Magnificent Ambersons
  • Age of Innocence
  • The Good Earth
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • All the King’s Men
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Beloved
  • The Stone Diaries
  • The Hours
  • Middlesex

Looking at this list…I didn’t know they were pulitzer winners when I read them.

The first book I read was The Good Earth, which was recommended to me by my mother when I was about 14 because Pearl S. Buck was the child of a missionary and therefore the book was probably full of good Christian thought. Don’t think mom ever read it, since prostitutes and concubinage featured large in the story. But it was a vivid book and I remember it still.

I guess the books were all good enough that I remember them now, and for the most part I remember what I was doing when I chose and read them.

But…There are many books I’ve read that I feel are better than those particular books. That’s the thing about awards, I guess. They are just one set of opinions.

Maybe I’ll go through and read the rest of the Pulizter books. Just to cross them off the list.

Need a new drug…er…book

I’ve recently finished “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clark. A friend recommended it. Usually, we have the same taste in books, but this one sort of unnerved me. Maybe it’s because I am not so into Sci Fi anymore.

And now I’m reading “Never Let Me Go” by Ishiguro. I didn’t know it was another piece of sci fi!


Fingers drumming.

The book is annoyingly well-written such that I don’t want to give it up. I’ve got less than 50 pages to go, so I will finish it tonight if it kills me. But, I dislike the premise of the book. The story is, all the people in the book are clones that were created as infants, and then raised up to adulthood in order to have their organs harvested.


But they add this interesting twist to raise the question of the status of the clones souls. Do they have them? So far, the people seem just as ordinary as anyone else, except for their absurd willingness to allow their organs to be harvested..

It’s creepy. And I don’t believe it. What society would allow children to be raised to adulthood for the purpose of slowly killing them by taking an organ at a time? Let’s be real, the first thing that a society that would do that sort of inhumane things would do to clones is turn them into a prostitution ring. That’s what my co-workers thought of immediately, anyway, and then began to plan how a netflix type situation of “releases” off their favorite models would be arranged for their convenience.

Almost as creepy as the book, that. Sometime the male-dominated workplace has its trials.

Anyway, the book is annoying me. And two books in a row that annoy me…It’s hard to take.

I haven’t found a new thread…I mean, a new author to read through or a new genre..I don’t know. I can’t find a good set of books to get me through.

I’m about ready to go back to Victorian times. Some Henry James would set me up for a long visit in the book-world. And I can TRUST a man like James not to creep me out about the existence of clones.

But I can also trust him to take FOREVER to finish. I loved the victorian long form of novel when I was a teenager. I had all the time in the world then. Austen? Dickens? No problem, what else was I doing with my time? Although I will admit, I got put off Dickens after finishing “Little Dorrit.” Lord in heaven, THAT was a chore to finish. I guess Dickens had his crank-’em-out-you’re-on-a-deadline works, too.

A good chewy, but not too chewy book, that’s what I need. I’d like to find an author that’s still alive that I enjoy.

I already finished all of Amy Tan. She would be perfect. But “saving fishes from drowning” was a deadline kind of book. I’m sure she has more hooks in her, but she needs some time off to find them. Take it slow, Amy. Let it come when it’s ready.

Haruki Murakami, MOST excellent. But I finished all of his a while back.

Gregory Maguire was fun, with “Wicked” and all the other fairy tales re-explored. But finished those too.

Philip Roth is okay. But he’s an on-again-off-again kind of writer. Also influenced by the publishers deadlines. I’ve read a lot of his, but…Well..many of them are regrettable losses of time.

John Irving is pretty good, as well as still alive. But I started in on “The world according to Garp” and got as far as the part where the kid gets his eye put out through an accident that happened because his parents were separately cheating on each other. I simply could not forgive the author for that act of violence on an innocent child. It was maybe a third of the way into the book, and I was willing to let the characters convince me of their worthiness. But once the kid got hurt, I had to take a stand. NO! The author had to right to take time to unwind the story, but that violence was a cheap shop. I couldn’t do it.

I could give some of his other books a try though. Maybe.

John Updike is still alive. But he is so…so…Baby boomer. I should read the Rabbit series. But it’s probably very navel gazing and existentially angsty.

Is it too much to ask that a story act like people have a chance of influencing the course of their life through the choices they consciouly make?

Is it?

Okay, yes, we are at the mercy of larger societal forces, and acts of God such as the weather. But can we have a protagonist that remembers to pack an umbrella and a little honest ambition, and therefore gets a little bit of a foothold while managing to NOT die of consumption?

Maybe I should respond to the subtle urgings of my 7 year old friend and read Harry Potter. I am not certain, but I have an inkling that maybe children’s books have a possible edge of optimism left in them

Sucking post-modernist world view. What’s the post post modern thing already? Can’t we move on?

Alright. Before I get totally bitter, I’ll head for the children’s section. A few flights of fancy would do me some good.


Friend of mine told me a story of temping.

One of his duties was to make the coffee. He had the instructions–the recipe–for how to make the coffee.

He made the coffee in the morning and went about his business.

“Are you the one who made the coffee?” the man wanted to know.


“This is wretchedly strong. You really have to use less grounds. This is undrinkable!”

“Thanks for letting me know.”

Next day, he makes the coffee and goes about his business.

“You made the coffee again this morning?” Same man talking.


“This stuff is dishwater. You have to use some grounds.”

“Thanks for letting me know.”

Next day, he makes the coffee and goes about his business.

Same man stops him.  “The coffee is good today. Just right.”

“Thanks for letting me know. Glad to hear it.”

Simple story right?

But wait for it…O. Henry lives on.

My friend hadn’t changed how he made the coffee.

I took away from this story that people require something to complain about. Employees require it…like pencils or air conditioning. It’s best to give it to them.

I like the idea of having wretched coffee. Just to provide the needed sense of being put upon that workers cherish so.

an appendix to the damaged particle

The idea occurred to me while shopping at the B&N…I saw a shelf of Nicholas Sparks books while trying to find Nabokov..BOTH of them were in the LITERATURE AND FICTION section.

I thought, “how can Sparks and Nabokov be in the same section at the bookstore? Sparks can’t touch Nabokov’s hem”

[thinking now though, Sparks could probably BUY Nabokov’s whole wardrobe. Sparks is a multi-million bestseller…and Nabokov couldn’t even aspire to being a full-time professor at university for most of his life]

But thoughts like this take on a life of their own. I have been finishing Glory by Nabokov…since I’d only read Lolita before. This book filled me with hope, because it was good, but not anywhere near as good as Lolita , which means that he did not spring out of God fullly formed as the master author. SO, that means that I will probably have a chance of being a better writer too.

Which led me to think again of how long it takes to write a damn book. And how short of a time it takes to read a book. I am going on vacation for 11 days, and I worry that I will run out of book. And that CAN”T HAPPEN. I MUST have enough book to last me….I am a book addict, like a drug addict. A drug addict, when she runs out of her drug of choice, will take anything…even sniff glue. I don’t want to my addiction to drag me down into such degradation, but I have been known to read the phone book when nothing else is available. I can’t let that happen.

So I am a monstrous reader, devouring the feast that took so long to prepare. Books that took their crafters years of heart and soul wringing to write, and even more lifebeats to gain the wisdom to be able to start the writing– these I devour callously and insatiably.

And I do feel sad that I read so fast now. And I approach each new book with eagerness, but still knowing that I am going to have a changed thing after, that the expectation is not going to be the reality.

Book Review: _Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West_ by Gregory Maguire

I just finished Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Remember the Wizard of Oz? And the green Witch with the flying monkeys? Well, this book is supposed to tell her story.

I confess I didn’t really have high expectations for this book when my book club chose it. It was a popular book and had even been made into a Broadway musical—two things that made me dismiss it as intellectually shallow.

I could not have been more wrong. What a page-turner! I couldn’t put it down.

Maguire creates a full and detailed world. At his hands, Oz has climate, people groups, competing religions and mythology. Politics create rifts and alliances.

As for the heroine herself, he begins early with her. He starts with her conception and early life, but she becomes a real person to the reader when she arrives at the university. She is a hotheaded activist and sincerely believes in doing what’s right even at personal cost.

She is a powerful woman. The ties and interpersonal tensions that guide her choices are utterly familiar to modern readers. Her loves and insecurities are poignant and universal.

What exactly about her is wicked? What does wicked mean in her world–or ours?

With the title he has chosen, Maguire is not being subtle. He quotes Tolstoy, Defoe and Frank Baum (the originator of Oz) before the book starts. He wants to analyze wickedness in this book.

The story itself, though, doesn’t seem to address wickedness conceptually. What it does address is the person of the Wicked Witch. If she is taken to embody wickedness, then the filling out of her character and personality in this story makes wickedness extremely ordinary and normal.

She herself seems to live leaning over the edge of despair, feeling herself and the mercy of forces outside her control. With this position, Maguire would imply that evil itself is merely a misunderstanding.

And this makes me understand that I definitely underestimated this book.

I’m going to go find all the other books this guy wrote.

List of Books I recommend for Young Adults

A while back, a friend with a blazing smart and fast-reading niece complained that she couldn’t think of books to recommend for her to read, since young miss read so fast.

I made a list of some of my favorite. Enjoy!

By M.E. Kerr
I stay near you

Fell Down

Book of Fell

Fell Back

by Francesca Block.
Weetzie Bat,
Witch Baby,
Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys,
Missing Angel Juan,
The Hanged Man,
Baby Be-Bop,
Girl Goddess #9,

Louise Erdrich ANYTHING by HER

by Robin McKinley.
The Blue Sword, T
he Hero and the Crown,
A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories,
Rose Daughter,

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by Katherine Paterson.
Jacob Have I Loved,
The Same Stuff As Stars,
Bridge to Trerabinthia

Graphic novels (aka comic books) Art Spiegelman.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale;
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale II.

· Cynthia Voigt.
Dicey’s Song,
Izzy Willy-nilly,
Wings of a Falcon,
When She Hollers,
Bad Girls,
Bad, Badder, Baddest.

The Lovely Bones: a Novel Alice Sebold

Achebe, Chinua.
Things Fall Apart

by Austen, Jane.
Pride and Prejudice,
Emma (anything by her, really)

Charles Dickens
Bleak House, (if you like him, there are tons more)

by Bronte, Emily.
Wuthering Heights

by Buck, Pearl.
The Good Earth

by Cather, Willa.
My Antonia,
Death Comes for the Archbishop (anything by her)

by Defoe, Daniel.
Robinson Crusoe

By Dreiser, Theodore.
Sister Carrie(not an easy read, but good…sad)

by Eliot, George.
The Mill on the Floss,
Middlemarch (also not easy, but very good)

by Ellison, Ralph.
The Invisible Man

by Flaubert, Gustave.
Madame Bovary( not an easy read)

by Grahame, Kenneth.
Wind in the Willows

by Hammett, Dashiell.
The Maltese Falcon,
The Glass Key (these are mysteries, not hard to read and very good)

by Hurston, Zora Neale.
Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Keys, Daniel.
Flowers for Algernon (this will blow your mind, and it’s good)

by Lee, Harper.
To Kill a Mockingbird

by Marlow, Christopher.
Dr. Faustus (if you like Shakespeare)

by Morrison, Toni.
The Song of Solomon (anything by this author, but they are strong stuff…these can be pretty vivid stories about slavery in America)

by Munro, Alice K.
Selected Stories( these are the only short stories I know that read like a novel)

by Orwell, George.
Animal Farm(the granddaddy of science fiction…well, except maybe Jules Verne)

by Salinger, J. D.
The Catcher in the Rye (a favorite of serial killers…but why?)

by Shelley, Mary.
Frankenstein (the original is way good, and way less scary than I would have thought)

by Sophocles.
Oedipus the King,
Antigone(ancient greek plays that could kick shakespeare’s Butt)

by Steinbeck, John.
The Grapes of Wrath,
East of Eden,
Cannery Row

by Swift, Jonathan.
Gulliver’s Travels

by Thurber, James.
The Thurber Carnival (this guy has the quirkiest sense of humor…AWESOME!)

by Wilde, Oscar.
The Importance of Being Ernest (also, anything by this guy)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by betty smith

Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Amy Tan (anything by her!) The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, A Hundred Secret Senses

by Madeleine L’Engle
A wrinkle in Time, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and a Wind at the Door
The Arm of the Starfish, House like a Lotus,

_Women in Love _ by D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence is scandalous. He’s most famous for Lady Chatterly’s Lover, which announces its scandalousness loudly by having “Lover” in the title. It screams “Sex is happening here!”

This meant that he got banned and censored. Even better! Nothing so titillating as a banned book.

Yeah, except…A lot of the time the books that are banned are not as raunchy as the imagination of the people who banned them. True smut is seldom banned; it’s just put in the back room and left for the pervs who want it.

And D.H. Lawrence’s smut is sort of weak and intellectual. Yes, Lady Chatterly had a lover. And yes, Lawrence tells all. But when you get down to it, the all is kind of disappointed. He tells it like it is, and wouldn’t that be the definition of “prosaic”?

In daily lives, relationships are like that. They’re not scandalous—even the scandalous ones.

Well, I read Lady Chatterly a long time ago, and that’s not the book I’m reviewing now. I picked up Women in Love because I knew D.H. Lawrence was a highly regarded author, and I had only read LCL and one short story by him. I wondered if other his other books were worth reading.

So, this morning, I finished Women in Love. The story starts with two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun. Both of them were extremely modern ladies, but with really old-fashioned names. Gudrun especially has that contrast. I didn’t even know Gudrun was a name, it’s that archaic, but she herself was an artist. She made her living at it, even. Ursula was a little more tame; she was a teacher.

There were the men, too. Gerald Crich and Rupert Birkin reveal themselves as the love interests for the two women in love.

All these four are strained to the breaking point with their sensitivity. They are constantly in rapturous heights, or seriously believe that they will die of their disappointments. It seemed comical to me, after the first time, how overcome they are by their feelings.

And they are constantly on very high intellectual discussions. What is the meaning of things, really? And they come to conclusions, by paths not apparent to others, which are very definite. All so important.

Love to them is not a soft pillow to fall into and languish upon. It is an argument to resolve, or a cause to take up. They snuggle sometimes, and ask “Do you love me?” of one another. But they had previously torn to shreds any assumptions about love and what the word means, so both the question and the answer are blind groping.

Oh yes, and add to the two cute hetero couples a strong homoerotic tension between Rupert and Gerald. Whew. Even I felt a little steamed up by some of the scenes between those two.

All of these characters seem to want so much. They don’t believe in anything they have known, but they want to find something that they don’t know to believe in.

…a phrase which sounds utterly nonsensical and as if I could have lifted it directly out of the novel. I don’t think I am inadvertently quoting, though…

These people are so modern; they seem unable to exist with any satisfaction in the world they are in. Gudrun, who is the most modern of the group, can find no satisfaction of mind anywhere. She does however, enjoy nice stockings. That particular detail shows that Lawrence is in charge of this book of contrasts.

Bibliomania tells me “Lawrence maintained that it was his finest work.” It was finished in 1916, but not published until 1921. I can tell that it fishes deep into the spirit of the time. Many of the ideas and impulses described seem so in keeping with what I know of the period. I could imagine that it would resonate strongly with his contemporaries.

It’s not an easily understood book, but I’m glad I read it. Especially now that I know he thought it was his best. I don’t feel like rushing out and reading the rest of his stuff though. But if one came to hand, I wouldn’t turn it away.

Book Review: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

In this story, Orwell tells how he lives when he finds himself basically destitute. While in Paris, he runs low on money and then gets robbed, leading to a stretch of out-and-out poverty.

Since this misfortune starts in Paris, it is easier to accept. Why otherwise would a well-born Englishman end up dependent on the generosity of pawnbrokers to get food? As the story progressed, I could accept the plausibility of his dire straits only because he was in a foreign place. I’ve been in foreign places, and things are different there. I would accept discomforts and experiences that would have been unacceptable at home, because things are supposed to be strange when one is traveling.

Things got pretty strange for Orwell. He writes of how he has to fake solvency to keep his landlady from kicking him out.

He writes with both feet on the ground. The descriptions are utterly realistic–he gives exactly the sort of detail I would ask for if it were a friend of mine telling me their story over a drink. He gives exact numbers of how much things cost, and tells about the way he had to smuggle food into his room. He mourns that he must waste money on the more expensive bread, because the cheapest variety will not fit into his pocket for smuggling.

He does eventually find work as a dishwasher, which gives him enough sustenance to form the idea to ask for help from a London acquaintance. Alas, things don’t always work out as intended.

The characters that fill the Paris portion of the book are vividly drawn, including people living in the shadow of misfortunes of health and love. The cheap Paris boarding house included a share of impractical dilettantes as well. After he crosses the channel, the London characters enjoy the same brilliance of description.

While the Paris paupers have there own methods of getting by, the British differ substantially. It took the author some time to get the hang of homelessness in the UK. He describes the wandering life, going from homeless shelter to homeless shelter. In the contemporary term, they are formally known as casual houses or informally as spikes.

This is George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984. There were some well-reasoned political thoughts regarding poverty. The book was published in 1933, which means the stories related must have happened during the Great Depression. There was a whole lot of poverty to ponder on at the time. A lot of people were beginning to think “whatever we’ve been doing, we should stop and do the opposite.” There was evidently a lot wrong with the world, in many people’s eyes.

So, Orwell took the opportunity to propose some new activities for homeless people. And he talked about he prejudice held in the hearts of most comfortably situated folks. He would have us realize that tramps are people, too.

This book was set about 70 years ago. When I picked it up, I wasn’t sure I would like it. I was utterly amazed by it. I don’t think I’ll forget it. Of course, I couldn’t help comparing it to Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. I admit, I’ve only read portions of that book, but I know that it is hugely popular, even spawning a musical of itself.

I feel like Orwell happened upon his down-and-outness a little more honestly than Ehrenreich. She meant it to be an investigative journalistic experience, but Orwell just found himself poor and kept his eyes open to the experience. He was not ashamed of his life experiences. He published them and gave all of us a gift in the form of this book.

As a final word, I’d like to recommend the audio book that I experienced this book through. The reader did excellent reading of the many many accents of the characters in the book and made them vibrant.

Books I have read in the last two weeks

I dont’ have time to review them all, but I would like to keep a record of the books I read.

Open Secret by Alice Munro
The man in my basement by Walter Mosely
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
I want to wear a red dress by Pearl Cleage
The Love Wife by jen Gish

Okay, I’m still in the m iddle of Love Wife. I ran out of book last thursday and Karen loaned it to me.

I have also listened to, recently, a whole lot of audio tapes with lecture series on them. Crazy wonderful, those are. LOVE LOVE LOVE the teaching company:

The history of freedom
The history of Myth
Alexander the Great and the Hellenic Age
The Middle Ages

I tried but got bogged down in:
Great Romans

too many names in that one, and I REALLY wanted to listen to the middle ages series, which was MUCH more absorbing. Middle ages knock me out.

I just checked out:

That one should be interesting. More recent, anyway.

Okay, that’s enough for now.