Monday, October 08, 2007

A Book A Day Keeps The Blues Away

My mother used to warn me that always burying my nose in a book was not only going to ruin my eyes and force me to wear thick unattractive coke-bottle lenses, it was also going to turn me into a deranged antisocial unattractive misfit. She was right on both counts, but I didn't care. I'm so myopic by now that my poor wigged-out retinas are plastered flat up against the back of my skull, and to this day I'd rather stay home and read incendiary subversive literature than just about any other option that ever seems to appear on the menu. Of course that may change once I figure out how to incorporate more monkeys into my life, but we'll get to that challenge on the list later. Today I want to talk about books.

I've been a voracious, escapist, compulsive binge reader since I was four years old. I love words and I love ideas, and when they elegantly converge to form an original view of Astonishing Truth, I'm in heaven. Given a choice between oxygen and reading about a radical new way to make sense of the world, I would probably asphyxiate myself.

I may have let the pressures of the world lure me away from building elaborate sand castles and belting out bawdy drinking songs at the top of my lungs, but I never ever gave up reading. No matter what was happening, I've always made time and space in my life to read. So there's really not too much that needs to be said or done about this item on the happy-making list: it's already there. But just for the hell of it, in case you may be hankering for some good reads in your life, here's a list of the most excellent books that I've read in the past 30 days. I heartily recommend every single one of these, they've all brought me obscene amounts of pleasure and satisfaction.

  • The End of Manhood: A Book For Men of Conscience by John Stoltenberg

    Review excerpt from Harvard Educational Review:
    Stoltenberg presents a radical critique of the very concept "manhood," arguing that it serves no socially desirable function — only hurtful functions that can and should be eliminated from men's personal identities and social interactions. He presents a provocative alternative to most thinking about men and the problematic aspects of our behavior and identity. He bases his critiques on the claim that "manhood," in all of its various masculine incarnations, is at odds with, and in fact mutually exclusive of, an authentic sense of "selfhood" — a selfhood necessary for relating to others in just, moral, and non-violating ways...[A]uthor and lecturer John Stoltenberg addresses this question and a host of others with a bold passion, sense of humor, gift for story telling, and a deep commitment to what he calls "loving justice."

  • The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

    Review excerpt from Publishers Weekly:
    The neo-liberal economic policies—privatization, free trade, slashed social spending—that the Chicago School and the economist Milton Friedman have foisted on the world are catastrophic in two senses, argues this vigorous polemic. Because their results are disastrous—depressions, mass poverty, private corporations looting public wealth, by the author's accounting—their means must be cataclysmic, dependent on political upheavals and natural disasters as coercive pretexts for free-market reforms the public would normally reject. Journalist Klein (No Logo) chronicles decades of such disasters, including the Chicago School makeovers launched by South American coups; the corrupt sale of Russia's state economy to oligarchs following the collapse of the Soviet Union; the privatization of New Orleans's public schools after Katrina; and the seizure of wrecked fishing villages by resort developers after the Asian tsunami....[H]er critique hits home, as she demonstrates how free-market ideologues welcome, and provoke, the collapse of other people's economies. The result is a powerful populist indictment of economic orthodoxy.

  • Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland

    Book Description:
    "This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people; essentially-statistically speaking-there aren't any people like that. Geniuses get made once-a-century or so, yet good art gets made all the time, so to equate the making of art with the workings of genius removes this intimately human activity to a strangely unreachable and unknowable place. For all practical purposes making art can be examined in great detail without ever getting entangled in the very remote problems of genius."
    --from the Introduction

  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson

    Review from School Library Journal:
    In this fascinating and eye-opening Revolution-era novel, Octavian, a black youth raised in a Boston household of radical philosophers, is given an excellent classical education. He and his mother, an African princess, are kept isolated on the estate, and only as he grows older does he realize that while he is well dressed and well fed, he is indeed a captive being used by his guardians as part of an experiment to determine the intellectual acuity of Africans. As the fortunes of the Novanglian College of Lucidity change, so do the nature and conduct of their experiments...The issues of slavery and human rights, racism, free will, the causes of war, and one person's struggle to define himself are just as relevant today.

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

    Review from Publishers Weekly:
    Afghan-American novelist Hosseini follows up his bestselling The Kite Runner with another searing epic of Afghanistan in turmoil. The story covers three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban tyranny through the lives of two women. Mariam is the scorned illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, forced at age 15 into marrying the 40-year-old Rasheed, who grows increasingly brutal as she fails to produce a child. Eighteen later, Rasheed takes another wife, 14-year-old Laila, a smart and spirited girl whose only other options, after her parents are killed by rocket fire, are prostitution or starvation. Against a backdrop of unending war, Mariam and Laila become allies in an asymmetrical battle with Rasheed, whose violent misogyny—"There was no cursing, no screaming, no pleading, no surprised yelps, only the systematic business of beating and being beaten"—is endorsed by custom and law. Hosseini gives a forceful but nuanced portrait of a patriarchal despotism where women are agonizingly dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children being their sole path to social status. His tale is a powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters.

  • The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz

    Review from
    First published in 1950, The Labyrinth of Solitude addresses issues that are both seemingly eternal and resoundingly contemporary: the nature of political power in post-conquest Mexico, the relation of Native Americans to Europeans, the ubiquity of official corruption. Noting these matters earned Paz no small amount of trouble from the Mexican leadership, but it also brought him renown as a social critic. Paz, who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, later voiced his disillusionment with all political systems--as the Mexican proverb has it, "all revolutions degenerate into governments"--but his call for democracy in this book has lately been reverberating throughout Mexico, making it timely once again.

  • Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity by Marie-France Hirigoyen

    Excerpt of review from Publishers Weekly:
    Often, emotional abuse builds over a long period of time until it becomes so unbearable that victims lash out in frustration and anger, only to appear unstable and aggressive themselves. This, according to Hirigoyen, is the intent of many abusers: to systematically "destabilize" and confuse their victims (with irrational, threatening behavior that preys on the victim's fears and self-doubts), to isolate and control them and ultimately to destroy their identity. These relentless "predators" are also incapable of compassion or empathy, always blame the victim and never see their actions as wrong.

  • The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper

    Excerpt of review from Publishers Weekly:
    Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

  • Sacred World: The Shambhala Way to Gentleness, Bravery, and Power by Jeremy and Karen Hayward

    Excerpt from the book:
    "Being a warrior has nothing to do with waging war. Being a warrior means you have the courage to know who you are. Warriors never give up on anyone, including themselves."-from Sacred World

  • Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros by Desmond Rochfort

    Excerpt of review from
    The muralists' work took up the themes of society and revolution. Often the paintings depicted historical vignettes like the story of Cuernavaca and Morelos crossing the barranca, or Mexico's ancient Indians. They satirized contemporary society, created ideal visions of peaceful families, and built up dark, imposing industrial cityscapes then leveled them by depicting the debauchery and death of the capitalist industrialists. The paintings themselves reflect diverse artistic influences--surrealism, cubism, and illustration, most notable among them. Their bold colors and strong imagery practically bound out of the 150 color plates in this book.

Anybody else read any of these? What did you think?


Blogger Marian said...

I think that book list is getting you down and you need more laughs. Here are some monkeys for you:

5:43 PM  
Blogger Lymphopo said...

Uh-oh: YouTube and dancing monkeys. An extremely dangerous combination.

5:53 PM  
Blogger scotchneat said...

I'm with you on the reading>oxygen. An interesting companion to Tepper's book is "A Handmaid's Tale" (Margaret Atwood).

Excellent compare and contrast :)

6:34 PM  
Blogger Janice in GA said...

The Gate to Women's Country is one of Sheri Tepper's best works (IMHO.) It was one of her first books to tackle issues of women and men, though she's gone on from there.

It also has a line that I think of whenever I see a large, upright monument somewhere.

It's "an erection suitable for a parade ground." :)

8:25 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't know if there's a sequel to Octavian Nothing, but if there is, I must have it. I very much liked it and how much it did.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Dr. Lisa said...

Loved a Thousand Splendid Sons. I also just read Women of the Silk which was amazing.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Carny Asada said...

I liked "Gates to Women's Country" quite a bit. I always enjoy reading Tepper, even though I often disagree with her. There's always a "reveal" about two-thirds of the way through her books. Sometimes it works ("They're all animals? cool!") Sometimes not so mucn ("They've started an interstellar market in kidnapped female babies? And they're the 'good' guys? WTF?")

11:42 PM  
Blogger Alexandra said...

I just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns and though it was so much better than the Kite Runner. Still horribly depressing though and I did wonder a few times why I even picked it up, but at the same time I had to compulsively finish it within a weekend.

I'm using your list for book shopping ideas later this week.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read Klein's book, but I am writing a dissertation on the effects of neoliberal economic policies. She's right, the effects are devastating. What is more stunning than the effects themselves is how most of the OECD countries are still so wedded to neoliberal ideology. They (and the boys who run the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) are convinced that these policies will EVENTUALLY work--we just need to tweak them a bit. So, developing countries should just keep the faith, despite devastating poverty, horrendous levels of income inequality, and other awful effects of neoliberal ideology. It's astonishing, the level of denial that exists among the most powerful countries and policymakers in the world.

I'm glad to hear that the ideas are seeping into mainstream literature! There's hope for me yet--perhaps I'll be able to write a book for more of a popular audience once I've finished the dissertation.

10:32 AM  
Blogger T. Comfyshoes said...

I haven't read Klein's book yet either, but I was fortunate enough to go to a talk/book signing by her, and I am very much looking forward to my partner finishing our copy so it can be my turn.

And I added the masculinity book to my wishlist.

12:16 PM  
Blogger RP said...

I love Sheri Tepper - I go right for her books when I need to be angry and uplifted, all at once. "The Fresco" and "Grass" are fantastic, too.

2:01 PM  
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3:04 PM  
Blogger Yankee T said...

A Thousand Splendid Suns: Brilliant. Reading it for my book club. I wish you lived nearby. We need one more really bright member.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Manhood, selfhood... add childhood to that thought mix. Do we need to extend the time of the child? Or would the young be better served if given more alternatives earlier?

I've read a couple of others by Shari Tepper - Grass and Sideshow, as well as her YA series, the True Game. She's always got something that keeps you thinking long after you've put the book down. And fantastic imagery.

7:11 PM  
Blogger lu said...

I must say that A Thousand Splendid Suns, although great, didn't compare to The Kite Runner in my eyes.

My current recommendation is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I loved it!

9:23 AM  
Blogger Lt. Obtusely Rev. B. Dagger Lee said...

I'm glad you liked Octavian Nothing. My hair stood straight up in the air while I read the last third of that book. And I felt swoony.

Have you read any Vivian Gornick? She also makes me feel swoony.

I just received Art & Fear from the Deep Inferno Trading Post.

9:24 AM  
Blogger County Gardening said...

A Thousand Splendid Suns made me realize why our forces were in Afghanistan. Brilliant and moving.

My latest is The Assassin's Song by M.G. Vassanji - an enthralling novel set mainly in India before, during and after partition, from the eyes of a boy who came to attend Harvard then stayed in Canada.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Trasi said...

Of your list, A Thousand Splendid Suns was the only thing I had read (and seriously, the only thing I have read lately). I have a labor-intensive four year old. I read magazines now. :-)
Seriously though, I picked up "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy and I started reading it one evening. I got about 50 pages into it, and went to sleep. My sleep was DISTURBED all that night. I now cannot read it because I am afraid of the nightmares. But I want to. I think it will be an amazing book.

10:12 PM  
Blogger momo said...

I've read the Paz book and I have the Mexican muralists book. It's been many years since I read Tepper, but I remember both liking her work and not totally agreeing with her either. I haven't read this book by Naomi Klein yet, but I have read No Logo. I recommend anything by Kate Atkinson!

10:48 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

'Mother Nature' by Sara Blaffer Hrdy is a good book involving monkeys.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Thalia said...

I'm not even sure I like Sheri S. Tepper, but I always read her books. The back cover of Gate To Women's Country made it sound like some kind of critique of feminism, or the horrible consequences of taking feminism to extremes; but I got the feeling Tepper was perfectly serious in thinking the situation of the book a viable alternative. So I don't know. I find her stuff a little too cerebral for me, too, I think; too much talking. But, like I said, I always read her stuff!

7:17 PM  
Blogger layne said...

It's Festivals Acadiens this weekend. Get your nose out of that book, get those boots out of the trash, and come dance!

2:09 PM  
Blogger CRUSTY MOM-E said...

Just finished Splendid Suns...WOW! I loved it as much as I loved the Kite Runner...
great book favorites!

I stumbled on your site via "Simons" favorite visiting spots! :)

I too love being lost in a book somewhere..

5:19 PM  
Blogger Rent Party said...

I just ordered the Hirigoyen book, thanks for the tip. I've read the Paz
and the writing is gorgeous.

11:56 PM  
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11:38 AM  

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