November 20, 2009

What Would Scout Do?


I was baffled by Publisher Weekly's choice to exclude books by women from their "Best of 2009" list, but as I mentioned I couldn't really argue with them since I hadn't done the reading.

Now the National Book Award people have announced their top 2009 picks, and again, no women. Odd. They did, however, give Flannery O'Connor a "Best of the National Book Awards" award.

Meanwhile, Kamy Wicoff, creator of Shewrites.com, blogged about her lunch date with a(male) marketing guru who told her that She Writes is a terrible name for her business because it's a pigeon hole that makes people think of only women-type books such as The Lovely Bones (his example).

Ok, what?

He went on to say, according to Wicoff's blog, that even though it's written by a woman and narrated by a girl, To Kill a Mockingbird is a male book because, "Atticus is really the main character. And that book was a historical book. It had an impact on history. It was important. You know. It was a man's book."

I read this and wanted to spit. Or kick something. Or do both at the same time. I love Atticus. I considered naming my child Atticus in honor of him, but main character My Ass. It makes me wonder what Scout might have to say about it. I could rant long and hard about this marketing guy's unfortunate literary notions, but I'll just say this:

What this guy and the National Book Award people are saying, from what I can tell, is that fiction by women only gains its worth after sitting on the bookshelves for at least a good fifty years. Then we can look back through the lens of time and decide whether or not women really had something to say that was worth reading.

Well as they say out here in New England: No Suh. I found the short list of nominees for the 2009 National Book Award, and there are a few books by women on it, so instead of kicking something (or someone) I'm setting a goal for myself to read all of these books-- well, maybe not the non-fiction because a woman's only got so much time and attention span-- and make my own list of winners.

Here's the nominee list for your perusal:

Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage (Wayne State University Press)
Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin (Random House)
Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Jayne Anne Phillips, Lark and Termite (Alfred A. Knopf)
Marcel Theroux, Far North (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Nonfiction
David M. Carroll, Following the Water: A Hydromancer's Notebook
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Sean B. Carroll, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City
(Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt)
Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press)
T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Alfred A. Knopf)

Poetry
Rae Armantrout, Versed (Wesleyan University Press)
Ann Lauterbach, Or to Begin Again, (Penguin Books)
Carl Phillips, Speak Low (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Open Interval (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press)

Young People’s Literature

Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt and Co.)
Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Small, Stitches (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Laini Taylor, Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

Perhaps you'd like to read a few as well. We could compare notes.

November 16, 2009

The Birthday Monster

You may remember Buckaroo's poem from a few posts back. The FMF added an illustration of her own and turned it into something like a page out of a children's book-- just for me on my dirtday.

I told her I'd never before had a birthday prezzie that made me cry. I must be getting smooshy in my old age. And I was so worried there would be a dearth of friendship in The Woods.

And just because I'm feeling sentimental I thought I'd add this one of my little mama and a brand new me:
November, 1971

November 14, 2009

The Subjective Ten

Publisher's Weekly created a list of the top 2009 books, and there's a lot of uproar about it because their top ten includes nary a woman. My initial reaction was, "Really? Not one woman? I'm dubious."

Then again, I don't really prefer to read books by men-- just check out my "Quite Incomplete List of Favorite Books." I could say more about this, but I'd probably just manage to insult a lot of men with my broad generalizations, when really my taste just is what it is. I do have to say, though,The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of my most favorite books of all time and one I probably wouldn't have read if Monkey Mama hadn't suggested it, so I know I need to work on that bias.

Also, I tend not to read much in the way of non-fiction, with the exception of parenting books and my recent foray into Buddhism, so if I were going to make my own 2009 top ten list, I wouldn't be likely to include the non-fiction genre, whereas PW included five non-fiction titles (six if the graphic novel is included). It made me wonder how many non-fiction books were published by women in 2009. Where does one find that list?

Plus I am certain I would have included one book of poetry, probably Jennifer K. Sweeney's How to Live on Bread and Music and not just because she is one of my most favorite people.

As much as I want to get all riled up about PW's list and create my own, I haven't read a single book published in 2009 (with the exception of poetry) because hardbacks are too expensive, and the reserve list at the library is too long. I imagine a lot of folks are on this page with me. Even my friend L, who is Diana Gabaldon's original and biggest fan, did not run out and buy An Echo in the Bone upon its release. It's the stinky economy.

The cynical part of me thinks that PW came up with this list and decided to run with it because controversy sells. The lit-loving side is glad it's selling. I'm thrilled that so many people are talking about, and buying, books in response.

Right now, though I may change my mind, I'm going to err on the side of generosity and tell myself that PW is not evil; their taste just is what it is, too, and if I had the time and money to read the books they read, I'd probably find that our taste isn't compatible.

On that note, I'm off to buy Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger, which we're reading for my bookclub. I was enduring the long wait for a library copy, but now I feel compelled to support a woman writer.

November 9, 2009

Our Buddhist Hearts

In my quest to chill myself out, I'm reading Awakening the Buddhist Heart by Lama Surya Das. I haven't even finished the first chapter-- I'm a bit of a slow non-fiction reader-- but I found this interesting tidbit you probably already knew:

"According to Tibetan Buddhism we have each had so many births that in all probability our paths have crossed time and time again. Wondrously connected to one another, we have been for each other brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, children, fathers, mothers, and mates . . . each person we meet has at one time been a close, caring family member and should be treated with the respect and love such a relationship deserves."

So, who do you think we were to each other in our past lives? I don't know, but I like the idea that whoever you are, reading my blog, we are not strangers. Man, this idea could really help to cure the road rage epidemic, among other epidemics.

Here's another thing: Before I picked up this book, I'd been thinking about the ways some of my new relationships out here in The Woods mirror friendships I have (or had) in California-- almost as if the issues I didn't resolve with myself, or with others, in that past life are finding another way to surface. Of course, I don't seem to have much say in the matter, so in true Buddhist fashion I'm trying to be ok with that.

So maybe that's how it works for everyone? Not only do we have chance after chance to untangle our knots during this lifetime, but in all of our following lifetimes as well.

I'm not sure, though, if that makes me feel more motivated or just a little lazy.

November 5, 2009

Pass the Peas, Lover









Two Peas in the Leaves

I always considered the word lover a kind of secret word, meant to be whispered in an ear or repeated behind a closed door, the kind of word only spoken aloud by characters in novels-- racy novels.

Then during college I was having dinner at my friend G's house one evening, when G's mom turned to G's dad and said, "Please pass the peas, Lover." I nearly choked on my chicken bone. I pulled myself together quickly, though, when I noticed that no one else seemed phased by the tossing about of such a private word. I decided it was an odd little family quirk and kept my mouth stuffed with my drumstick because it sure was delicious.

Fast forward twenty years: Here I am in Massachusetts, and I hear people calling each other lover freely. Couples use it as a term of endearment with each other and their children. They're using the word at the playground! G's mom, it seems is not so wacky, just an east coast transplant. And I thought California was supposed to be home of the love children.

I'm making a good faith effort to fit in with my fellow Massachusans, so I've been rolling this new definition of lover around in my head, trying to see if I might use it with R in public. So far love and lovey are as close as I can get with a straight face.

Also, whenever my brain wanders off in this direction I end up with Mickey & Sylvia's "Love is Strange" stuck in my head:
"How do you call your lover boy?"
"Come here lover boy!"

Maybe that's how I'll holler R and Buckaroo to dinner: "Biscuits on, Lover Boys!"