Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Books Read*

*a friend of mine asked how I was able to write so much. He only had the chance to skim my community organizing idea. To me, I don't write enough. There's always another thing looming that I really want to write about. And there's that novel. Heh. I realized though that one trick I learned from Tom Paine, who is much more prolific than me, is to go ahead and start drafts. If I have several drafts rearing their orange font at me, I tend to try faster to get back to them. That is also how I keep up with the books and movies.

Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller
One of my daily email reads is Unshelved, a comic strip about a strip mall library. (I swear they have informants for story lines from my library.) Every Sunday they have a book review, and this is where I heard about this book. These Sunday strips are really quite good as 'book talks'. The sardonic character Dewey gets a chance to reveal why he's a librarian.

Spy kid adventures, secret underground passages, girl power. The mysterious Kiki Strike, is she a good girl, or bad girl? She seems to have no weaknesses, many secrets, and brings out the best in brainy girls of a certain type. They are the Irregulars. Bonus, the narrator lists bits of knowledge throughout the book (girls like lists) that are useful to have, such as how to trail someone, how to disguise yourself, and what to do in an emergency or if attacked. Her list of things to see in NYC make me wonder if they really do exist. Plague victims buried in Washington park? Stone Street, with buildings from 1835? Underground passages in Chinatown?

Ah, refreshing to read after this one:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cities burned, grey ash floating everywhere, no plants, no animals, few sources of stored food left, no more glimpses of the sun, humans like packs of wolves, only more psychopathic. Spare dialog, bleak future, I kept reading hoping I would find some glimmer of hope, yet somewhat aware, since the title is "The Road," that I wouldn't really get an ending, not much of one.

It is somewhat like a guidebook: if you have any chance of surviving a nuclear winter, and you most likely won't, you either become a people-eater, or you scavenge and hide, fix things, bluff, kill, scavenge and hide. And then you die. Or maybe live till the next cache of old food is found.

Someone told me she didn't need to read this, that she already feels like we live in a bleak futureless world. Sadly, I too feel sometimes this is really so much closer than any of us would like to believe, karma being karma. I try not to believe it. I try to do what I can to prevent it. It's been a while since I read a post-apocalyptic novel. The last, I think, was a trilogy for teens called Fire-Us by Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Butcher. In that story, most of the adults of the world are killed by a virus. Children are spared, but then must grow up without the guidance of adults, definitely a bit of the "Lord of the Flies," flavor to it, without chance of rescue. That is more of a conventional book, more of the hope that yes, these kids can survive. More of a fantasy, it scratches the itch for a happier ending, and for triumph of good over evil.

"The Road" doesn't give us that fantasy. Bad people are stronger than good people, and have survived by eating "the good guys". But it does give us a glimmer, a bit of hope, held in a child, who "holds the fire." Barely hinted at, it is through a child who naturally would help even those who would have hurt him, who, through living, gives others a reason to live. That is how "the good guys" are able to keep living, having someone to live for.

Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs
It is now almost a year since Jane Jacobs died. As often happens, the news of her death clued me in to her ideas. It's been a while since I read the book, as well as her The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The first is short, and is written as an exploratory conversation between friends and acquaintances. It's one of her later books, and it seems a good introductory book on her ideas that have come before. Death and Life took me a bit longer, definitely not the streamlined version. These both got me thinking about the economy of cities and the safety of cities. Here in Portland, according to Jane Jacobs we are doing something right with our development strategy of encouraging multi-use buildings. Many small businesses mixed in with residences encourages a complex thriving economy.

The Female Thing by Laura Kipnis
I can't remember why I checked this book out, whether someone recommended it or I saw it passing through at the library. It seems to be a good analysis about women still in a state of being caught between feminism and femininity, but I couldn't help but notice that sometimes the author dismisses anecdotal accounts found in the media, and other times uses such as proof of a trend. She seems to be frustrated or bitter with women not getting it right, and I kept reading thinking I would find out just what she thought we should do or be. I guess she's a polemicist, and maybe I just don't get polemics. I think we do have a habit of equating feminism with well-known feminists, and she seems to fall into this trap. She is a professor of media studies. I noticed also she seemed to equate certain news stories with the way women are, or men are. I'm not quite sure what her end point was, other than, we're human and we're messed up. Still it was worth reading, I learned some facts I didn't know before. I think feminism is alive and well. I think hangups over sex are alive and well, and addressing that is part of feminism. I think this habit of equating the authors and leaders with the movement itself makes people wary of labeling themselves as such, but we've come a long way, and we have a long way to go.

Skin: Talking About Sex, Class, and Literature by Dorothy Allison
I can't remember why I checked this book out; it must've been on somebody's list of recommendations.

I could so relate to Dorothy's experiences as a "white trash" person, only mine weren't as horrific. I wondered if I too am so good at empathizing because I have been a they. She said,

The first time I heard, "They're different than us, don't value human life the way we do," I was in high school in Central Florida. The man speaking was an army recruiter talking to a bunch of boys, telling them what the army was really like, what they could expect overseas. A cold angry feeling swept over me. I had heard the word they pronounced in that same callous tone before. They, those people over there, those people who are not us, they die so easily, kill each other so casually. They are different. We, I thought. Me.

This could have been my words:
I grew up trying to run away from the fate that destroyed so many of the people I loved, and having learned the habit of hiding, I found I had also learned to hide from myself. I did not know who I was, only that I did not want to be they, the ones who are destroyed or dismissed to make the "real" people, the important people, feel safer.

Some things I could learn from her regarding my writing. She did not hesitate so to crib from her own life for her fiction, like I have:
I believe in the truth. I believe in the truth in the way only a person who has been denied any use of it can believe in it. I now its power. I know the threat it represents to a world constructed on lies. I believe any trick that keeps you writing the truth is all right, but that some tricks are more expensive than others. The one I have used most often and most successfully is that gambit in which I pretend that I am only one person trying to get down my version of what happened. My writing becomes fiction soon enough anyway. The truth is wider than the details of what really happened in my life.

I know the myths of the family that thread through our society's literature, music, politics--and I know the reality. The reality is that for many of us family was as much the incubator of despair as the safe nurturing haven the myths promised. We are not supposed to talk about our real family lives, especially if our families do not duplicate the mythical heterosexual model.

I hadn't a clue how to write the complicated story, the story of growing up female in our particular family, the daughter of the youngest of the Gibson girls, that trashy family where the boys all went to jail and the women all made babies when they were still girls themselves. .... The first rule I learned in writing was to love the people I wrote about--and loving my mama, loving myself, was not simple in any sense. We had not been raised to love ourselves, only to refuse to admit how much we might hate ourselves.

The most fruitful material I have is from my childhood. Even while I embraced the truth among my friends, I bring it out in the world less obviously. And why is that? Dorothy used her fiction as a way to speak to her mother, in a way they couldn't directly. She seems to have no regrets mining her life for that material, in fact it seemed necessary for her to recover. It hasn't been necessary for me, but I have also always hesitated to use that material. Instead I gravitated toward creating an ideal world. Was I instead still afraid of the consequences of being too obvious, of revealing our secrets and shame to the world? Was I still hiding? My life was not as bad as Dorothy's. I was an object of scorn, but not to the point (that I know of) that parents told their kids not to play with me. If I am to write something as complicated and as rich as I would like, I must not shy away from the truth, I must be willing to show the dark and the light, the messy complicated interweaving of dark, light and shades of grey. I must be willing to make people angry, defensive. Is it that I don't want to hurt people, or I am afraid? Is it that I don't want to be too revealing, or that I am ashamed to be too revealing?

1 comment:

SIMPLY ME said...

you are indeed a very interesting person.