Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: The Ghost of Greenwich Village

 Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Today I have a teaser from The Ghost of Greenwich Village by Lorna Graham:

"The sepia walls around them seemed to hold the smoke and secrets of a century, while the names carved into the battered tables hummed with the spirit of countless departed drinkers. A sudden wave of deja vu made the hairs on Eve's forearms rise" (pg. 47).

The Best Books I Read: Poetry Edition

I've decided to participate in a Monthly Poetry Event with Lu and Kelly of Regular Rumination and The Written World, respectively. With this event, I'll be publishing at least one post about poetry a month (more in April for National Poetry Month). Today I'd like to kick things off with a list of five poetry books that I particularly enjoy and/or have shaped my poetry reading in some way.

The Poetry of Robert Frost
Some of the earliest poetry I read, and still some of my favorite.

Treasury of French Love
I love that this book has French poems with the English translation on the facing page. Beautiful!

Alive Together by Lisel Mueller
I discovered this poet in college and absolutely love her style. Last year during National Poetry Month, I did a Poetry Spotlight on her.

A Little Treasury of American Poetry
This book was my self-taught introduction to poetry growing up. Edited by Oscar Williams and published in 1952.

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
I read these poems now and they seem ridiculous and gross, but back in the day, I loved them.

What poetry books do you enjoy? Who are some of your favorite poets?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Short Story Monday: Paul's Case

The other day on the blog Roof Beam Reader, I came across a recommendation to read Willa Cather's short story "Paul's Case." I'd never read any Cather, and I trust Adam's judgment on most literature, so I dove in.

What a fantastic story! Every detail enriches the story and characters. Symbolism abounds. The story itself is mesmerizing. "Paul's Case" is about a high school boy who lives, what is to him, a mundane existence. He hates school and his classmates. He doesn't get along with his father or teachers. His only joy is in observing art - paintings, statues, theatre, music. Not participating or creating the art, but watching it and drinking it in.

At the beginning of the story, Paul stands before a group of teachers from his high school, trying to make a case as to why he should be allowed to return to school. It's not something he actually wants, but "Paul was quite accustomed to lying; found it, indeed, indispensable for overcoming friction."

What Paul really wants is to live the life of a rich and powerful man - fancy hotels, expensive clothes, the finest foods - without doing any of the legwork. He wants, in short, to be an heir. His family isn't poor by any means; they are quite comfortably middle class and live on "a highly respectable street, where all the houses were exactly alike, and where businessmen of moderate means begot and reared large families of children." Paul finds this life, his father's life, to be bland and dreary. He makes up stories to his classmates about going on yacht voyages and loses himself whenever he can at his usher job at the concert hall, in the art gallery, or backstage at a downtown theatre.

Eventually the story takes a turn and Paul absconds to New York City with money from the office in which he works. He gets the chance to fulfill his dreams, however briefly, until reality catches up with him.

In reading the story, I'm not sure whether the reader is supposed to empathize with Paul or not. He's really a pretty big brat. His head is in the clouds and he expects that he should have everything he wants without working for it. Through Paul's eyes, his father is the bad guy, but I read him more as a well-meaning father who wants his son to have the best opportunities possible in the future. True that Paul's father doesn't understand him or deal with Paul's problems in the best way, but it's easy to see that the guy is doing the best he can. The early death of Paul's mother is hard on the whole family.

How do you read Paul? Is he an overly-dramatic brat or a Romantic hero? Should he be praised or condemned (or neither) for his actions?

I highly recommend "Paul's Case" and encourage you to read it. It's a little lengthy, but most definitely worth it.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Madness of King George

See this line of people here?

What do you think they're waiting for? A big sale? Tickets to a great concert? The newest electronic device?

Wrong on all three counts. This line of people (of which Andy and I were a part) are waiting to head into a free lecture on the British period in St. Augustine history, part of the Discover First America series.

After the last lecture, when we arrived at about 6:30 for a 7:00 start time and the only remaining seats were in the nose bleed section to the side of the stage, Andy and I decided to get over there as quickly as we could for this lecture. Between driving home from work and eating dinner, the earliest we could manage was about 6:10. Doors opened at 6, and we arrived to find this nice long line already formed of people filing into the auditorium. Our seats were still in the third level, but at least we were centered this time.

And yes, let me repeat, all of this excitement is for a historical lecture.

The years known as the British Period in St. Augustine lasted from 1763 until 1784, bookended by two Treaties of Paris. The first, signed in 1763 ended the French and Indian War (also called the Seven Year's War) and transferred possession of Florida from Spain to England.

Florida was a British colony during the American Revolution. It was the fourteenth colony, but it is rarely mentioned today as such because it was a Tory colony, loyal to King George. Though most of the Spanish settlers left when the flag changed, Florida, and specifically St. Augustine, was again teeming with people as loyalists from the original thirteen colonies flocked to either Florida or Canada to avoid compromising their allegiance. In the picture below, a St. Augustine resident reads the Declaration of Independence aloud as his neighbors shout "Treason!"

Why the loyalty? In 1774, Patrick Tonyn became governor of East Florida and brought financial stability and prosperity. The Floridians wanted that stability to continue - something that wouldn't happen with a war on. One of the most prosperous residents at the time was Jesse Fish. Below, an actor portrays Mr. Fish as an enterprising man who either owned or supplied most of the town. He had real motivation to mistrust the trouble the "rebels" were stirring around up north.

When the American Revolution ended, another Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, returned Florida to Spain. The majority of the British settlers left and a new influx of Spanish arrived. The last British refugee ship, the H.M.S. Cyrus carrying Governor Tonyn, left Florida in November 1785.

Another speaker at the event was Chuck Meide, an underwater archaeologist with the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. He told us about a wreck he and his crew had been excavating in the last couple of years called the Storm Site, or the Storm Wreck. Meide and company wanted to discover the name of the vessel and, more importantly, its time-period. The waters around St. Augustine are a veritable graveyard for wrecked ships - the inlet is naturally guarded by a shallow sandbar that larger ships could not navigate through. Finding these wrecks, collecting artifacts, and dating them help archaeologists and historians gain a better sense of what life was like back then. At the Storm Site, Meide and his crew found the second oldest caronnade yet found in the world - cast in 1780.

In reference to Wednesday night's event title - "The Madness of King George" - Joe Bolles, mayor of St. Augustine, quipped
"We've always been a little mad, but we've been here longer than anyone else."
That sentiment, I think, about sums it up.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Philosophy of Dogs: A Small Furry Prayer by Steven Kotler

Officially, I think, A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler is a memoir. I disagree somewhat with that label. Yes, Kotler shares the personal experiences that led to him and his wife leaving Los Angeles to start the Rancho de Chihuahua dog sanctuary in New Mexico, but those experiences, particularly in the second half of the book, serve more as a backdrop for Kotler's research and musings on everything dog: their history, their relationship with humans and each other, their psychology, and even their capability for believing in God. I learned as much from this memoir as I have from more official nonfiction books (for proof, see my Amazing Canine post from the other day). For these reasons, I have decided to count A Small Furry Prayer toward my Non-Fiction Non-Memoir Reading Challenge goal. I think it meets the spirit of the law, if not the letter.

Overall, I enjoyed A Small Furry Prayer immensely - it wasn't what I was expecting. As I mentioned, it is a lot less memoir-y than I thought it would be. Kotler focuses a lot on his research about dogs - information that is fascinating, especially for dog owners. That said, there was not really a narrative arc or traditional storyline with a beginning, middle, and end. The book starts out quite narrative - we read about Steven and Joy's experiences starting the dog sanctuary, the dogs they help, and the challenges they face. Kotler flashes back to his early days with his original dog, Ahab, and how loving Ahab set him down his dog-saving life path. The narratives more or less stop after a particularly tough period of time in which Joy and Steven lose seven dogs in seven weeks, including their favorites. After that, the book turns much more philosophical and scientific and the anecdotes that Kotler shares serve to illustrate his deeper points.

A Small Furry Prayer doesn't have a conclusive ending. Because there was no overarching narrative, the book really could have gone on as long as Kotler still had insights and anecdotes to share, and I get the feeling that he nowhere near exhausted his reserve in this book. I would have liked a more definitive structure and order - it felt too scattershot.

Kotler addresses sticky issues like the value of animal rescue as a cause (i.e. why save animals when so many people are suffering?), the "humanity" of animals, and the interconnectedness of all life. The information he presents is interesting and well-cited, the stories emotional, and the cause noble. A Small Furry Prayer is a must-read for dog lovers and animal rescuers, but be prepared for deep thinking and deep emotions.

*This book counts toward my goal in the Non-Fiction Non-Memoir Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

Today I bring you some words from A Small Furry Prayer by Steven Kotler:

Demodectic: Of, pertaining to or caused by parasitic mites of the genus Demodex.
"Gidget had demodectic mange" (pg. 24).

Mescaline: A psychedelic drug of the phenethylamine class found naturally in several species of cacti, including peyote, San Pedro, and Peruvian Torch.
"Her dance involved standing in one place and moving her paws straight up and straight down, not unlike a marionette on mescaline" (pg. 25).

Viga: a roughly made rafter or roof timber, especially in a Latin American village.
"Since Leo could still get out of a cone, during the two weeks it took that hole to heal, he spent his days under careful supervision and his nights stockaded, tied by leashes between two vigas on our back porch" (pg. 59).

Ungulate: a hooved mammal.
"Wolves were the top predator in Eurasia, able to keep pace with giant herds of ungulates..." (pg. 81).

Koan: A story about a Zen master and his student, sometimes like a riddle, other times like a fable, which has become an object of Zen study, and which, when meditated upon, may unlock mechanisms in the Zen student’s mind leading to satori.
"There is a famous koan first uttered by the Zen master Chao-Chou Ts'ung-shen in the seventh century" (pg. 86).

Techichi: The Mayan name for an early small dog that is an ancestor of the Chihuahua.
"The Mayan called these dogs techichi, and when the Toltecs conquered the Mayans they took a serious liking to the techichi" (pg. 121).

*All definitions are from Wiktionary.org.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

 Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Today, I have a teaser from Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo:

"Everybody in Annawadi talks like this - oh, I will make my child a doctor, a lawyer, and he will make us rich. It's vanity, nothing more. Your little boat goes west and you congratulate yourself, "What a navigator I am!" And then the wind blows you east" (pg. 1).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Short Story Monday: Tom's Husband

It's been a little while since I last read and discussed one of the Library of America short stories of the week, but the title of this one had me intrigued: "Tom's Husband" by Sarah Orne Jewett. It's a story about a married couple, Tom and Mary, who don't fit the customary expectations of society. Mary has a predilection for business and little patience for housekeeping or cooking. Tom, on the other hand, enjoys quiet pursuits like coin collecting and rather likes the work involved in keeping house. The problem is that this couple is living in the 1880s, where gender role reversals are very uncommon.

When Mary first mentions her desire to take charge of getting the family's mill business back up, Tom balks. A little indignantly, he wonders if his wife is calling him lazy or insinuating that he wouldn't be able to handle the work involved in reviving the mill. "I can foresee that my pride is going to be humbled to the dust in every way," Tom says. They let the matter drop, but a few days later, Mary goes forward with her plan. Tom, who truly thinks that his wife is amazing and is rather curious to see how it will all pan out, goes along with it and tells their servants that they should report to him from now on.

Of course, in our day and age, while it is still a little unusual to see the woman at work while the husband stays home, it is nothing so far-fetched as it was in Tom and Mary's day. The number of stay at home dads is increasing all the time and becoming more accepted. Still, there can be a stigma - not so much for the working woman, but for the man who's not bringing home the bacon. I'm reminded of a family with whom I attend church and their decision a couple of years ago for the mom to go back to work as a school nurse while her husband worked from home and took care of the kids (two of the three were not yet school-age). I heard a couple of the other moms talking about it and mentioning how awkward it would be to socialize with the dad during a play date or at the park. To them, at least, the idea of dad being home with the kids was still an uncomfortable one.

I say that each family is different and only that family can decide what works best for them. Certainly fathers take a much more active role in raising children than they did in past generations, and I don't see how that can be anything other than positive.

What do you think?

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Amazing Canine

I've been reading a book about dog rescue by Steven Kotler called A Small Furry Prayer and let me tell you, dogs are amazing. But this time I'm not talking about their cuteness, fluffiness, or sweetness. I'm talking about their evolution in relation to human evolution. Human evolution is tied so tightly to wolf evolution that in many ways, we are more similar to dogs than to apes. Much of our behavior adapted over time to imitate wolf behavior:
"When early hominids first arrived on the Eurasian steppe, socially - which is to say emotionally - we were much more like primates, but we left more like wolves.... We are here, because we were first there, a fairly selfish animal confronting a hostile new territory in the Eurasian steppe. Wolves were the steppe's top predator, and we wanted to share that spot. So we adopted wolflike strategies, and this decision not only changed the course of human history but also may have been the starting point for human history" (pg. 82).
Or, in other words:
"Scientists can trace intelligence, self-awareness, and long-term planning to our chimpanzee ancestry, but... traits such as patience, loyalty, cooperation, and devotion both to one's immediate family and to a larger social group are not prevalent among primates" (pg. 83).
Humans and wolves already had much in common, "unlike primates, both wolves and humans are nomadic, omnivorous, social species" (pg. 83), and so it behooved both species to "form an evolutionary partnership." Of course, the partnership wasn't immediate, but eventually humans and wolves began hunting together, each species using their strengths for the common good. Wolves handled the tracking because of their more sophisticated senses of hearing and smell, and humans handled the killing because of our opposable thumbs and "bipedal stances". Traits like loyalty, patience, and cooperation became more important as human communities grew to include wolves and the "pack" expanded.

Of course, over time, the domesticated wolves evolved into dogs (which is amazing in itself) and the bond between humans and canines (and their reciprocal, mutualistic relationship) increased as time passed. Dogs are man's best friend because
"We have evolved to cohabit with dogs. Their presence is part of what makes us feel safe in the world" (pg. 86).
Sorry, cat people, but that's science.

Just as humans have evolved to need dogs, dogs have evolved to be more in tune in humans than any other animal, including other humans. Before the 1990s, scientists widely believed that imitative behavior was a capability that dogs lost in their domestication from wolves, that dogs are therefore "dumber" than wolves. Studies pitting wolves against dogs in completing imitative tasks seemed to confirm this belief. But one researcher, Vilmos Csanyi wasn't buying it. He did some studies of his own working on the idea that "dogs aren't dumber than wolves, only more attuned to human desires" (pg. 213). Maybe the dogs in previous experiments didn't complete the required tasks not because they couldn't, but because they weren't sure if the humans wanted them to. Through his work with dogs, Csanyi "discovered that dogs can understand pointing, nodding, and staring - three things that chimpanzees have a very hard time doing" (pg. 213). In one study,
"Dog puppies and wolf cubs were raised in identical environments for three months, then, with handlers in the room, were given a chance to remove a chunk of meat from a cage by pulling on a rope. Both dogs and wolves solved this pretty quickly. Then the rope was tied down, so pulling it to get the meat became impossible. The dogs gave it a few tries, failed, and looked at the humans for help. The wolves ignored the humans and pulled until they were exhausted.
"Csanyi believes this proof that unlike wolves, dogs have an innate ability to pay attention to people, an ability sculpted by millennia of cross-species cooperation and communication" (pg. 214).
Likewise, dogs are experts at reading human emotion. Because the left hemisphere of the human brain controls both emotions and the right side of the face, "for face reading, the right side of the face is far more salient than the left. When we meet a stranger our gaze shifts to the right side of their face because that's how we figure out if the person wants to kiss us or kill us" (pg. 241). Dogs do this, too, but only when meeting humans:
"researchers... showed a series of dogs images of people, other dogs, monkeys, and inanimate objects. When the dogs saw another animal or an inanimate object, their gaze moved evenly across the image. When they saw humans, their gaze moved directly to the right sides of the faces" (pg. 241).
How fascinating is all of this information!? A Small Furry Prayer is turning out to be much more than the simple memoir I thought it would be. Today, I just wanted to share some of what I've been learning, but when I finish the book I'll write another post that focuses more on the writing, story, etc. and publish later in the week.

Friday, January 20, 2012

BAND Discussion: Reading to Support Goals

This month for the B.A.N.D. (Bloggers' Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees) discussion, Joy of Joy's Book Blog asks
What book or books have you used or are you using to support a goal, resolution, or project?

This is a tricky question for me because I'm not really a "resolution" type person. I don't typically sit down and write out goals or plans to achieve those goals. I do have some life improvements in mind that I've already started, but not many of them seem to involve reading books.  As a matter of fact, for one of my recent aspirations, reading books actually is counter-effective: I'm trying to find hobbies that are not so sedentary because I hate exercising but need more physical activity. Currently my hobbies include reading, blogging, watching movies, and falling asleep at the beach. I'm already working toward finding non-sedentary interests: Andy and I are going to start volunteering with Habitat for Humanity one Saturday a month.

One lifelong goal that I have is to build my knowledge of education and education policy. I recently developed and then postponed a plan to get a second master's degree in higher education and in the meantime, I'm planning to read books and articles on the subject. I just bought one book that fits the bill: Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. This book asks and tries to answer the question "Are undergraduates learning anything in college?"

I also have my eye on Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids---and What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker, Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide by Sharan B. Merriam, et al., and The Two Cultures by C.P. Snow.

What books about higher education have you read that you can recommend to me? What books do you plan to read to support your goals and aspirations?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"But what was death... except something true and grand and sad?"

Soldier's Pay is William Faulkner's first novel. He wrote it in New Orleans, in a house that is now home to Faulkner House Books, where I bought my copy of Soldier's Pay. That alone predisposed me to enjoy this book.

Previously, the only Faulkner I had read was As I Lay Dying, which I enjoyed for its stream of consciousness and unique narrative voices. It felt groundbreaking - I had never read anything quite like it before. Soldier's Pay also incorporates this unique voice and rarely-used devices to tell the story and involve the readers in the minds and emotions of the characters. For example, Faulkner often uses parentheses throughout the novel to express a character's unspoken thoughts:
"Jones, having to an extent eased his feelings, though he saw a recurring interest in her expression. (I was right, he gloated.)" (pg. 73).
He also employs a play-like construction that juxtaposes the inner-workings of several characters in rapid succession:
Sergeant Madden:
Powers. Powers... A man's face spitted like a moth on a lance of flame. Powers... Rotten luck for her.

Mrs. Burney:
Dewey, my boy...

Sergeant Madden:
No, ma'am. He was all right. We did all we could...

Cecily Saunders:
Yes, yes, Donald. I will, I will! I will get used to your poor face, Donald! George, my dear love, take me away, George!

Sergeant Madden:
Yes, yes, he was all right... A man on a fire-step, screaming with fear.

George Farr:
Cecily, how could you? How could you?

Because of Faulkner's unique voice, I wouldn't be surprised if many people (like my husband) had attempted this novel and gave it up within the first twenty pages. These pages are chaotic, slurred, and blurry. The reader is never quite sure what is going on, who is who, or whether anything is actually happening as depicted. It's actually brilliant because within these first pages, the main characters are all disgustingly drunk. The writing style reflects this drunkenness, making the reader feel almost drunk herself. By page 30, everyone has mostly sobered up, and the writing makes more sense. After that point, the plot and characters are easy to follow. I admire Faulkner for this peculiar strategy, but question his wisdom in beginning the novel with it.

The strongest aspect of Soldier's Pay is definitely the writing - the experimentation and amalgamation of various styles keeps the reader on her toes and makes the characters more accessible. That said, the content of the novel is less impressive. These characters all "fall in love" at the drop of a hat. Mrs. Powers, who marries her deceased husband just weeks after meeting him and three days before he is to leave to fight in World War I, somehow falls in love with Donald Mahon a few hours after meeting him. Somewhat understandable except for the fact that Mahon is sleeping or barely conscious for most of that time and has a horrible head wound from the war that both mars his face with a horrendous scar and reduces his intelligence and external awareness to almost nil. I can understand pitying him, taking compassion on him, wanting to mother him, but romantic love? The questions remain throughout most of the rest of the novel: What are Margaret's true feelings for Donald? Is she "in love" with him, or simply looking out for a wounded soldier?

Julian Lowe, a nineteen-year-old soldier returning to the States without seeing any action, is just as bad. He "falls in love" with Margaret after seeing her across the room. He's jealous of Donald's wound, of his surely inevitable early death, because he feels that those qualities draw Margaret to him. He wants the wound and the death if it means Margaret will love him. Joe Gilligan also falls in love with Margaret quickly, but his character is more complex and in him, the bond doesn't seem as silly.

In all, Soldier's Pay is clearly a first novel, but it is a first novel that foreshadows the great writing to come from William Faulkner. Faulkner does an excellent job depicting the feelings of soldiers returning from war - they are out-of-step, don't quite fit in, and need to reacclimate themselves to their homes, families, and lives, knowing that the only thing that has changed is themselves.

Have you read any Faulkner? Which work(s)? What did you think?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

Today I bring you some Spanish lessons courtesy of Dagoberto Gilb in his collection of short stories Before the End, After the Beginning:

Pocha: (slang) a Mexican American female who speaks poor or broken Spanish, and has become a gringa
"has that happy pocha kind of name" (pg. 7).

Suegro: father-in-law
"my son was joe, like my own dad and my suegro both" (pg. 7).

Cholo: mestizo; person of mixed caucasoid and various degrees of Amerindian descent.
"I had an uncle, who was more tattooed cholo, who called himself Memo, and I didn't want that" (pg. 28).

Chichona: well endowed, having large breasts
"She was a chichona woman and it was hard not to know that, especially when she was wearing a bathing suit" (pg. 33).

Caliche: A layer of hard clay subsoil; hardpan
"I pulled over and I got out and started on a caliche horse trail to the creek" (pg. 121).

Vinegaroon: A whip scorpion (Uropygid) that gives off a smell of vinegar when attacked.
"After they hung up all their pretty dresses on a lead pipe that fit across one wall and the other, there was no other space except for the dresser she had to share with her baby sister and the vinegaroons and scorpions and sometimes red ants that crawled up, ignoring the carpet remnant, through the cracks in the squeaky floors" (pg. 129).

*All definitions are from Wiktionary.org.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: A Small Furry Prayer

 Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:


  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Today I have a teaser from A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler:

"The dog had been euthanized, put down because of our personal fetishes, the shelter's lack of space, and a whole series of reasons that no longer made much sense to me. 'No one adopts a pit bull,' she said, as if that cleared everything up" (pg. 60).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Short Story Monday and Giveaway: Before the End, After the Beginning

I just finished reading a collection of ten short stories by Dagoberto Gilb called Before the End, After the Beginning. Overall, the collection was a powerful look at people in the midst of life changes dealing with hardships such as illness, poverty, and prejudice. The stories all take place in the Southwest United States and most feature a Mexican-American main character.

The first story in the collection, "please, thank you", is about a man recovering from a stroke. The story is strangely written, with mistakes and no capital letters - traits that are explained half way through the story:
"its like this typing though. which i hate. i hate the mistakes i have to fix, the waste of time, the enthusiasm they drain. you dont see them because of me. i make them right. im better at it too because im doing it, as you see. i type with my one hand. really its more one finger on the wrong hand. im right-handed, and now i can only use the left. im not bothering with the shift key or the apostrophe. i fix the other mistakes, slow as that is, i type y for t often, for instance, or o for p. i make extra letters where they dont belong, or i forget letters or spaces. i could make caps, not easy, bt i could. and apostropke.s. see those mistakes? im noy fixing them to show my point. that last little sentence has only one letter y instead of t typo in it. when i started typing, there was one in every word. sometimes now i put my right hand on this keyboard too, even though it really isnt close to helping. the index finger cant feel the keys, the right hand, and its fingers, have like a thick glove on it. the glove fits my hand so organically that it looks exactly like my hand used to. you cant tell them apart" (pg. 18-19).
"please, thank you" is made even more interesting by the fact that Gilb himself suffered a stroke in 2009. He wrote most of the stories in this book after the fact.

The story in the collection I feel is the strongest is called "Cheap" - it's a story that brings together issues like illegal immigration, race, politics, religion, and prejudice.  The main character is a Mexican-American man who was born in El Paso, but through his musical talent and "luck" moves to Austin and purchases a home in a nice neighborhood. When he needs the interior walls of his home painted, he calls around for estimates and finds them all more than he's willing to pay. He finally finds a handyman, named Luke, who agrees to take on the job for a very "cheap" price. It turns out that Luke can afford to charge so little because he hires illegal Mexicans to do the work - men that he pays poorly and treats like animals. All the while, Luke talks on and on about the "church" he recently joined that has "saved" him.

The main character, who is slowly going blind for unexplained reasons, is appalled by Luke and his treatment of Carlos and Uriel. He buys the workers lunch and considers hiring them directly to paint the rest of his house, without Luke as a middle man. The workers would get more of the money and for a cheaper price than what Luke would charge. The issues at hand force the main character, and subsequently the reader, to think about the price of saving money and the tensions between the law and morality when it comes to the treatment of illegal immigrants.

Three other stories in the collection that I especially enjoyed were "His Birthday," "Uncle Rock," and "Hasia Teotitlan." The collection of stories is powerful, and though I've never before read any of Gilb's work, Before the End, After the Beginning left a positive impression on me.

Because I normally try to share stories that my readers can read for themselves for free online and that is not the case with this book (and also because I have an extra copy), I am giving away a paperback ARC copy of Before the End, After the Beginning by Dagoberto Gilb.

The giveaway is open internationally and until the end of the month. Please fill out the form below to enter. Please see the "Policies" page of this website for full details.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso: Graphic, Emotional, and Disturbing

I kind of wish I had never read this book.

In Tiger, Tiger, Margaux Fragoso tells the story of her fifteen year relationship with Peter - a relationship that began when Margaux was seven and Peter was fifty-one.

I met Margaux last summer at the ALA Conference in New Orleans. She took part in a Literary Memoirs panel discussion that I attended and, like the other authors, signed free copies of her book for the attendees. Unlike the other authors, Fragoso was withdrawn, preferring to read a passage from her book rather than answering questions or discussing it. With such personal subject matter, it was no wonder.

Fragoso doesn't leave out details in her book, even when I wished she would. Her problems at home with her parents caused her to view Peter's house as a haven - though it was there that she suffered the most damage.

At first, the whole thing seems fairly innocent. Margaux and her mother meet a nice-looking family at the public pool - parents with two boys just a little older than Margaux. They invite Margaux and her mother over to their house. When they arrive on the appointed day, the boys aren't even home and their mother, Ines, is busy with her own things around the house. That's a red flag right there. Later in the book, we learn that Peter and Ines are not married - Peter is Ines' live-in boyfriend, and the boys are not Peter's kids. For many months (Margaux and her mother go to Peter's house twice a week), Margaux's mother, Cassie, makes sure she is always with Margaux, but after a while, a trust develops and Cassie lets Peter take Margaux in the backyard, out for motorcycle rides, and down to the basement without supervision.

Peter lets a trust develop between himself and Margaux, too, before he crosses any lines. It must be confusing for a child to be asked inappropriate things by an adult she trusts. The whole thing is sickening.

Margaux is brave for telling her story and letting the world read it. As difficult as it may seem, Margaux portrays Peter as human and even likable in certain ways. She humanizes a pedophile, which is important for people like me who think of pedophiles as disgusting, inhuman lowlifes. They are, but they can also be manipulative, charming, and seem like the kind of person you'd like to have as a neighbor. That's the danger for parents. Who can you really trust with your children? How will you know whether someone is actually a good, nice person, or just waiting for the right moment to harm your child?

In the memoirs themselves, Margaux simply tells the story - she doesn't add commentary tinged with hindsight. But in the prologue, she shares more of the big picture. She describes what is was like:
"...spending time with a pedophile can be like a drug high. There was this girl [she means herself] who said it's as if the pedophile lives in a fantastic kind of reality, and that fantasticness infects everything. Kind of like they're children themselves, only full of the knowledge that children don't have. Their imaginations are stronger than kids' and they can build realities that small kids  would never be able to dream up. They can make the child's world... ecstatic somehow. And when it's over, for people who've been through this, it's like coming off of heroin and, for years, they can't stop chasing the ghost of how it felt. One girl said that it's like the earth is scorched and the grass won't grow back. And the ground looks black and barren but inside it's still burning" (pg. 5).
As a child from a troubled household (an alcoholic, abusive father and a mother with mental illness), Margaux's relationship with Peter made her feel that she was important to somebody, at least. Peter worshipped her, saved mementos, photographs, videos of their time together:
"Peter would watch these every day toward the end of his life: Margaux scuffling in the dirt with Paws, Margaux playing Criminal on the couch, Margaux waving from atop a tree, Margaux blowing a kiss. Nobody watches Margaux now. Even Margaux herself is bored at the sight of Margaux in headbands, Margaux in cutoff jean shorts, Margaux with drenched hair, Margaux by the ailanthus tree where the white hammock used to hang" (pg. 7).
Tiger, Tiger is a decidely uncomfortable book. It's graphic, emotional, and highly disturbing. No matter how valuable all the insight might be, I wish I hadn't read it. I can't recommend it, though that's not to say that the writing isn't good or the story powerful. Perhaps it's a little too powerful for my taste. If you do decide to read it, just know that you were warned.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Archaeology in the Olde City

Tuesday night, Andy and I went to the second session of the Discover First America series that the City of St. Augustine is hosting in preparation for their 450th birthday in a couple of years. The first session, on real life pirates, was about a month ago.

Tuesday's session was called "First Colony" and revolved around the archaeological evidence behind St. Augustine's early history. Only in St. Augustine would a crowd like this turn out for a lecture on archaeology:

We arrived forty minutes early and still had to sit up in the top corner of the auditorium.

After all the introductions and welcomes, Pedro Menendez (played by Chad Light) came out and did a rough reenactment of Menendez's landing in St. Augustine. This was neat, but nothing compared to the actual reenactment we saw back in September.

Then, the city archaeologist, Carl Halbirt, came out and shared that the city is celebrating a unique milestone this year - twenty-five years ago, St. Augustine passed and started enforcing the City of St. Augustine Archaeological Preservation Ordinance. With this ordinance, anyone who applies for a building permit within certain areas of the city deemed archaeologically significant must first submit to an archaeological dig on the property. According to Halbirt, in the years since the passing of this ordinance, more than 600 sites have been explored and countless artifacts retrieved. The goal of the ordinance - discovery before destruction - has been well met through the years.

Next up was Kathleen Deegan, a renown archaeologist who has been digging at what is now the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park for more than thirty years. In the past couple of years, Deegan and her team have finally found enough supporting evidence to say that this location was home to the original Menendez encampment of 1565. According to Deegan, this encampment was home to 500 Spanish soldiers, 200 seamen, and 100 others (including at least 26 women) in September 1565. By late October, just a month later, fewer than 200 people remained at the settlement. Most had left to man forts and start settlements in other parts of Florida.

By May 1566, the Spanish abandoned their original settlement for one on Anastasia Island, though they would move back to the mainland in 1572 and start building up the area that is now downtown St. Augustine.

Dr. Deegan shared that the question they are asked most often by curious tourists at the park is "How do you know where to dig?" This is a marked improvement, she said, over the question they would receive most often ten years ago: "Find any gold yet?" Deegan talked about old-fashioned sampling techniques and new-fangled ground penetrating radar. She shared a beautiful metaphor: archeology is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without a finished picture to reference - you put pieces together and try to discern what image starts to emerge.

Once again I am reminded why I love living in St. Augustine - such a rich history and no shortage of opportunities to learn about it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy aka Bermuda Onion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

Today I have some words from Soldier's Pay by William Faulkner:

Puttee: a long strip of cloth wound spirally round the leg from ankle to knee, worn especially formerly as part of a soldier's uniform.
"Lowe drawing his knees up sighed and turned his back to them, but Gilligan dragging at his legs removed his puttees and shoes, taking each shoe in both hands and placing it on a table" (pg. 34).

Derrick: a jib crane having a boom hinged near the base of the mast so as to rotate about the mast, for moving a load toward or away from the mast by raising or lowering the boom.
"He's like a derrick, he thought with exasperation" (pg. 61).

Sybaritic: pertaining to or characteristic of a sybarite; characterized by or loving luxury or sensuous pleasure
"Regarding food, Jones was sybaritically rather than aesthetically inclined" (pg. 61).