Tag Archives: books

Greyhound Story #3 (Whatcha Reading?)

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I thought I wanted to move to Austin, TX. I’d never been there, but it sounded like a cool place. I decided before actually moving there, I should visit so I could make an informed decision.

A friend of a friend had a room in a co-op house in Austin. Since he was more or less living with his girlfriend, he said I could stay in his room while I visited the town.

I took the Greyhound to Austin. I don’t remember anything about the trip. I don’t remember arriving at the bus station to depart the land of my birth or how I got from the station in Austin to the co-op. I must have taken a city bus, because I’m not the type to take a taxi, or maybe the friend of the friend and his girlfriend picked me up in her SUV.

I remember the room I stayed in.  It had cinderblock walls and was very dark. It was tiny and made me think of a jail cell or a room in a mental hospital, although at that time in my life I’d never been in either. The friend of a friend had left it messy, and I didn’t find it very welcoming.

I don’t remember much about what I did in Austin. I know I walked The Strip, the stretch of Guadalupe Street passing next to the University of Texas campus. The co-op where I stayed was close to the University, so I could walk to The Strip easily. One night the friend of a friend and his girlfriend had me over to her apartment for spaghetti. I didn’t go out to listen to live music. I didn’t go out drinking in bars. I didn’t join the residents of the co-op viewing Star Wars after I was invited in the kitchen.

Sapphistry : The Book of Lesbian Sexuality
I did go to Half Price Books near the community health food store. I enjoyed myself there. I enjoyed walking among the thousands of inexpensive books on the closely spaced shelves. I found one to buy for myself as a souvenir of my trip Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality by Pat Califia.

I’d recently discovered Pat Califia when my housemate introduced to the book Public Sex, a collection of essays about sexuality in late 20th century America. From there, I discovered Califia’s collections of BDSM themed short stories, Macho Sluts and No Mercy and her dystopian novel Doc and Fluff.  I enjoyed Califia’s writing style, and the sex scenes were hot, although I realized eventually that I wasn’t into BDSM in real life.

Public Sex by Pat Califia (1-May-2001) Paperback

I’d never seen Sapphistry, so when I ran across it for a few bucks at Half Price Books, I scooped it up.

Compared to Califia’s other works, Sapphistry was more of a how-to book for lesbians. There were no BDSM stories, no hot sex scenes. I was a little disappointed with the content, but as a budding bisexual with precious little experience with women, I thought perhaps I could gain some knowledge from the book.

Other than Half Price Books, I didn’t like much about Austin. I barely gave it a chance, I realize now, but in less than a week, I decided I hated the place and didn’t want to live there.

I got back on the Greyhound and headed home.

I’m not a gregarious, outgoing person. I mostly keep to myself when I can, especially in public, especially on the ‘Hound, so when the loudly talking man boarded, I hunkered down in my seat. I thought if I stayed low, kept my nose in my copy of Sapphistry, and didn’t make eye contact, he’d ignore me.

Wrong!

He chose to sit in the seat behind me. He leaned over into my space and demanded, Whatcha reading?

A book, I replied coldly, thinking I could give him a social cue that I didn’t want to talk.

He didn’t have a clue about my cue.

I know it’s a book! he exclaimed impatiently.  What’s the topic?

There are moments in our lives when we must make split second decisions between telling lies and telling truths. I was living such a moment. If I told the man I was reading a book about lesbianism, would he think I was a full-fledged lesbian and therefore off limits or would I open myself up to homophobic abuse? There was no way to know what telling the truth might bring.

I’ve never been a very good liar. Instead of trying to make up something about the book in my lap, I just blurted out one word: Lesbians!

The man sputtered and stammered and sank into his seat.

I thought he might come at me later with some negativity, so I prepared myself by putting on my headphones and listening to Tool for the next couple of hours. The angry hate music prepared me for battle, but the man must have considered me off limits because he didn’t try to talk to me again.

Little Free Library (Los Gatos Edition)

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I’d heard of Little Free Libraries before, but I’d never visited one.

If you haven’t heard about Little Free Libraries, here’s what https://littlefreelibrary.org/faqs/ has to say:

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.

Little Free Library book exchanges have a unique, personal touch. There is an understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community; Little Libraries have been called “mini-town squares.”

Little Free Libraries are examples of gift economy. There’s no buying or selling, no bartering or trading. People leave books they want to share, and other folks are free to take any of the books from the library. The aforementioned FAQ says,

…anyone may contribute or take books. The more the merrier! If you take a book (or two) from a Library, you do not need to return that exact book. However, in order to keep the Little Library full of good choices for the whole neighborhood, the next time you swing by the Library bring a few books to share. Little Library book exchanges function on the honor system; everyone contributes to ensure there are always quality books inside.

I was visiting my friends in Las Gatos, CA, and The Librarian casually mentioned the Little Free Library within walking distance of their house.

What? Where? I wanted to know. This was my very first chance to visit a Little Free Library.

I got vague directions from The Librarian, but almost didn’t go because it took me forever to get myself ready to leave town. But I managed to pull myself together just in time to visit the Little Library before I had to hit the road. I grabbed a couple of books I had finished reading, as well as a couple of books The Librarian was giving away and headed out to find the Little Free Library. I asked a woman pushing a baby stroller if she knew where it was. She did! Just keep going straight, she said. 14639584_197335864038529_3193993963841986859_n

Then I saw it in the distance. The closer I got, the more excited I became.

The box had a door with glass windows and two shelves. There were probably twenty books in the library, including one by James Patterson, on whom I’d been ragging just the night before. (Poor James Patterson. He’s the author I make fun of when I’m discussing not very good books read by the masses. On the other hand, James Patterson must be hella rich, so I don’t actually feel too bad about making fun of him.)

I added the books I’d brought to the library, then carefully looked through the offerings to see if there were any books I wanted to read. I found two, The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham and The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty

When we were discussing Little Free Libraries, The Librarian told me there has been controversy surrounding them in some cities. I was indignant! How could anyone be against Little Free Libraries?

14720475_197336020705180_7340245597807035176_nAccording to the USC Marshall School of Business website (http://librarysciencedegree.usc.edu/resources/articles-and-blogs/the-crackdown-on-little-free-libraries-and-what-it-means/),

in some cities, [Little Free Libraries are]…illegal and those cities are spending scarce resources to clamp down on them. Why?

The issue seems to be that the libraries are considered “obstructions” and “that you can’t do anything that might block emergency vehicle access, obstruct motorists’ views, impede pedestrians or make it hard to open car doors” lest you be subject to fines and penalties. And moving the libraries from city-owned boulevards to the private property immediately in front of a house doesn’t help, as it would then require zoning permits. A city spokesperson said, “that if there is no clear obstruction, it might be possible to keep the library where it is if [the owner] is willing to apply for a permit. And it’s possible that city arts funds could be tapped to pay for the permit.”

Scarce city funds being used to pay for a permit to allow what residents were willing to do for free must be the height of myopic absurdity. Thankfully, however, some residents are fighting back. 14713664_197335954038520_8200205731003869874_n

The Los Angeles Times reports of at least one instance where a resident who was served with a citation will be taking the case to court. And in Shreveport, Louisiana, public outcry and civil disobedience led to city council rewriting zoning ordinances and granting an exemption for what would have otherwise required a commercial permit.

I hope the stewards of Little Free Libraries in other cities will fight against foolish bureaucracy, because I want to visit more of these places of community sharing.

 

Book Review: North of Ithaka

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North of Ithaka: A Granddaughter Returns to Greece and Discovers Her Roots
This book tells the true story of Eleni Gage, a young American woman who spends almost a year in the Greek village where her father was born, overseeing the restoration of her ancestral home. The home had been abandoned for decades after communists used it as a headquarters and a jail in the late 1940s during the Greek civil war. Those same communists executed Gage’s grandmother for helping her children escape the village and for (allegedly) hiding treasure.

Despite these unhappy circumstances, Gage keeps this memoir fairly upbeat. This book is not a downer. It didn’t make me cry. It didn’t make me sad.

I did get a little tired of Gage’s self-doubt. There was more waffling here than in an Eggo factory. She wondered a lot if renovating the house was the right thing to do. Members of her dad’s family were upset by her decision to remodel the place of so much pain. But what were the neighbors thinking? Were they upset by her actions too? Of course, Gage never asked because she was afraid of the answer. I’m all for questioning motives and actions, but it just kept going on and on in every chapter. Am I doing the right thing? Am I upsetting people? Should I just quit? If Gage were truly concerned about the feelings of her fellow villagers, perhaps she should have actually discussed those feelings with them and explained her motivation. Instead, she did what she wanted to do without soliciting input, but tried to look good in the eyes of her readers by letting them know she really did (constantly) question whether or not she was doing the right thing.

I found two aspects of the book very strange.

#1 Gage got the idea to go to Greece and restore the ancestral home “the weekend after Thanksgiving 2001.” (For those who may have forgotten, that was less than three months after the September 11th attack on New York City.) At the time, Gage was living in New York City, yet there is not one single mention in this entire book about the September 11th attack. Gage does not mention how the attack influenced her decision to leave the U.S. She doesn’t mention how the aftermath of the attack made getting her paperwork in order or her actual travel more difficult. One could read this book and think the attack of NYC on September 11, 2001 never happened.

I lived in the Midwest at the time of the September 11th attack, and folks there couldn’t put the attack and related events out of mind for a long time. To New Yorkers, the attack was (understandably) a HUGE deal. It seems strange for a New Yorker to fail to even acknowledge the attack and related events in a book covering the time period from late 2001 through December 2002.

#2 Where’s the money coming from? Gage mentions (at least twice) that her father (the author Nicholas Gage) is paying for the renovation of the family home. Fair enough. But Eleni Gage quit her job in NYC to spend almost a year in a tiny Greek village where she never references a paying job. Who bought her plane ticket? Who’s paying for her rental car (and its fuel), her Greek cell phone, and the internet access on the new computer she bought in the city? Who’s paying for her to eat? Who’s paying the expenses for the several side trips she writes about? Is she living off her savings? Is she getting paid for free lance writing she’s doing about her time in Greece? Is she living off the advance she received on the deal for this book? When a twenty-seven-year-old woman spends a year abroad and doesn’t mention gainful employment, I think the reader deserves to know how such a thing is possible.

The parts of this book I enjoyed most were the ones where Gage explained the cultures of her region of Greece. Although I’m not religious myself, I enjoyed reading about the villagers’ Easter preparations. I liked reading about the “Gypsy” wedding. (Isn’t the proper term “Roma”? If so, someone should mention that to Gage.) I liked reading about festivals and dancing and name day celebrations.

Gage does a great job of weaving Greek history (ancient and more modern) in with her own experiences. I like having context for why people do what they do. Gage knows how to give that context.

The book ends with six recipes and a bibliography. A glossary of Greek terms would have been nice. (Greek words were defined in the text, but I certainly don’t remember every new word I encountered while reading this book. A glossary would have been a handy reference tool.)

All in all, I did enjoy reading this book, but I have no desire to read it again.

Book Review: A Prairie Populist

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I really enjoy books about pioneer women in the United States. I enjoy reading about their spunk and grit, especially if the women get to tell their own stories in the first person. I had A Prairie Populist in my stack of things to read for quite a while. (I think I picked it up in a free pile somewhere in New Mexico, but I can’t remember the details.) I finally read it in the early days of this season’s camp hosting. The following is a review I wrote of it:

This book contains both the personal and political memoirs of Luna Kellie, the prairie populist of the title.

This is Luna Kellie, the prairie populist of the book’s title. Image from http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=75033385

The stories Kellie tells in her personal memoir took place when she was a young mother on the prairie of Nebraska, before she was politicized. She and her husband moved from Missouri to Nebraska to farm the land, in hopes of providing a good life for the big bunch of kids they hoped to raise. They experienced happy times, but hardships as well.

Kellie was a great storyteller, although her writing was often difficult for me to follow. She mostly eschewed commons, and her sentence structure often seemed odd to me. However, I could typically figure out what she was trying to say.

This book is great for any adult who grew up reading the Little House series, but be warned, the trials and tribulations were not edited out of this one. Several babies died and even the ones who did survive had close calls. Animals dropped dead too. On more than one occasion, the family barely had enough to eat. Crops failed. Both Mr. and Mrs. Kellie struggled with illness. Pioneer life really weeded out the weak.

One aspect of the book that really surprised me was the number of liars, cheaters, and swindlers encountered by the Kellies. Most pioneer authors focus on the the we’re all in this together attitude of their good neighbors, but Kellie writes of the woman who stole the author’s quilting fabric, the man who sold her family dead sweet potato and grape starts, and the “friends” who tricked the Kellies into taking on a hear of cattle–promised to be good milkers–which gave hardly any mild at all. It seems like for every good neighbor the family encountered, there was someone trying to pull a fast one on them. The trusting family was often taken advantage of.

The personal memoir ended abruptly, leaving me with many questions. What happened to Kellie’s beloved brothers after they headed West? What other children did Kellie have and when? Did Kellie and her family have more exciting experiences?

The political memoir is much shorter than the personal one (thirteen pages vs. 126 pages), but reading about the labor organizing of farmers in the late 1800s was interesting. Unrest wasn’t invented by industrial workers in the early years of the 20th century!

The editor gives context to incidents in Kellie’s life in the afterward. She give more information about Kellie’s early life, and explains “The Political, Economic, and Social Climate” of the 1870s and 1880s. She also included information about the Farmer’s Alliance in Nebraska and Kellie’s role in it.

All in all, this was an enjoyable, if sometimes sad, account of pioneer life on the U.S. prairie.

A Prairie Populist: The Memoirs of Luna Kellie (Singular Lives)

 

Review of a Book I Didn’t Like: Millions of Women Are Waiting to Meet You

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Millions of Women Are Waiting to Meet You: A Memoir
I like to read. I love to read. Books have saved my life on more than one occasion. But sometimes books fuck me up too. Case in point, Millions of Women Are Waiting to Meet You by Sean Thomas.

I’d never heard of this book until I was poking around on BookMooch, looking for books to request. I saw a listing for this book, and the premise of the true story of internet dating from a man’s point of view seemed interesting. So I mooched the book. Then I read the book. Then I wrote the following review.

This book depressed the fuck out of me. It depressed me as in I don’t want to ever wake up because them I’m going to have to get out of this bed and deal with this awful world we live in.

It all starts harmlessly enough. The author is single. The author writes for Men’s Health magazine. The author’s boss tells him to write an article about internet dating. The author researches internet dating for the article by actually dating women he meets through dating websites.

The book is written in a sort of chatty, tell-all style. Each chapter relates not only to the author’s current dating dilemma, but to the author’s history of dating, love, and sex.

I thought the book was funny. I laughed out loud many times while reading it.

It’s also easy to read. I tore through it in about twenty-four hours (including a slow work day).

But when I finished reading it, I wished I’d never picked it up.

The author wants the reader to think he’s a nice guy. He wants the reader to wonder how a guy as nice as the author can be nearly 40 years old and still single. When he starts sharing his most private thoughts, the reader comes to understand why the author is almost 40 and still single. The author is almost 40 and still single because he is a cad. (Need a quick example of his dishonorable behavior? As he is contemplating dating a Chinese woman, he writes, “At least Asian girls will do the dishes.” I suppose that was meant to be funny.)

The first hint of the author’s boorish ways is his obsession with female beauty and body parts. He mentions the beauty of every woman he wants to meet. He mentions the breasts of nearly every woman he dates. He doesn’t enjoy a particular date because the woman involved misses her homeland and is maudlin and teary throughout the evening. However, she has a great “arse,” so the author thinks he really should see her again. The obsession with physicality gets a bit ridiculous when the author rejects a woman he seems to get along well with because she’s only a few inches shorter than he is. Maybe you’re alone, you idiot, I wanted to tell him, because you’re too concerned with how women look.

He says he likes short, thin women. He enjoys feeling as if he can protect them. (I wouldn’t trust this guy to protect me from a mosquito.) Apparently, he likes to be with small women so he can feel big and strong. (He refers to his “caveman” brain way too much.) It turns out that not only does he like small women, he likes young women. When he was in his early 20s, he was sexually and romantically involved with a young woman who was only 17. Then, when he was thirty, he was sexually and romantically involved with another seventeen year-old woman child. (His math concerning this relationship was a little confusing. He claims he got together with this woman when she was 17, was with her on and off for five years, then broke up when she was twenty.) Maybe he likes to be with young women because he’s immature. Maybe he likes them so he can dominate them and push them around. I don’t know. But maybe he ends up single because his girlfriends grow up and move on when they decide they want to try new things.

As we get deeper into the author’s story, we learn he has been involved in not one, not two, but three unplanned pregnancies. Ummm, condoms? Keep it in your pants? But apparently not, because then he’s involved in a paternity kerfuffle.

He frequents prostitutes, which I don’t think is necessarily morally wrong, except he frequents prostitutes in developing countries where women have limited economic choices. Sex slavery…how enticing. What really pissed me off was the sentence where he refers to “the whore my American friend had in Kenya.” The words “whore” and “had” make it all seem so ugly. If men are going to pay for sex, they should be respectful of the sex workers (even when the sex workers aren’t around to hear what the men have to say). But I guess one of the reasons (some) men pay for sex is so they don’t have to be respectful of the women they’re fucking.

I thought the most interesting chapter in the book is the one dedicated to the author’s foray into internet porn. I knew little about internet porn. I didn’t know people stream their live sex acts so other people can watch. I didn’t realize people watch “normal” folks have sex. The author didn’t know those things either. Of course, he spends so much time viewing internet porn that he ends up in the hospital. (No joke.)

So yeah. The author is a cad. But he’s an honest cad, and he shares with the reader everything that goes on in that cad brain of his. And you know, I appreciate honesty. And I support the author’s right to live his fucked up life the way that makes him happy. (Although he doesn’t seem happy through most of this book.) I even support him writing a book about it all. I’m just sorry his book fell into my hands. And I’m sorry that it was funny and well-written enough to keep me reading it. Because if the book jacket is right and this is “a book that reveals what men really think about love, sex, and dating,” a bunch of us ugly, fat, middle age (and older) woman are doomed to be alone. But after reading this book, I’m certain that being alone is preferable to being with this guy or someone of his ilk.

Vulnerability and Gratitude

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'A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow': An American Hitchhiking Odyssey by Tim Brookes (2001-07-01)
I’m currently reading “A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow,” by Tim Brookes. I picked up this Ocean Beach Library discard from the free pile at the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Three months later, I actually started reading it.

It ‘s the perfect book to read after a long day of mentally exhausting work. The writing is not overly challenging–no words I need to look for in a dictionary, no complicated sentence structure to contend with–but not simplistic either. The story is upbeat (no abused family members, nothing to send me down a spiral of depression) and interesting to me.

Here’s the plot: Author Tim Brookes grew up in Great Britain. In 1973, he bought a cheap ticket to NYC and hitchhiked clear across the United States and back again. After this tour of the U.S. he settled in New England. Twenty-five years later, he recreated his first trip and hitchhiked across the country and back a second time. (He had more resources the second time around and could buy a bus ticket or rent a car when he needed to, but he still relied extensively upon the kindness of strangers.)

I’m about halfway through the book now, but something I read last night rang so true that I wanted to share it here.

Brooks is telling a wealthy twenty-one year-old man about his adventures hitchhiking.

The young man says he doesn’t understand the appeal of hitchhiking. He tells Brooks that he prefers to ride in limos and stay in five-star hotels.

Brooks answers, The problem with that kind of travel…is that you’re never vulnerable.

The young man asks, Why should I want to be vulnerable?

Brooks says, Because otherwise you’ll never feel grateful for anything. You’ve got to make yourself vulnerable before you need something from someone else, and you’ve got to need something before you can feel gratitude. And unless you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you never have any chance encounters.  All the most remarkable people I’ve met on this trip, I’ve met by chance.

I could say the same thing.

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I took the above photo.

Book Review: Honeymoon in Purdah

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Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey
Last month when I was putting together the post about books and articles by and about traveling women, I came across the review I’d written for Honeymoon in Purdah: an Iranian Journey by Alison Wearing. The review was a bit long to go into an already long post, so I decided to save it for another day. That day has come!

Honeymoon in Purdah is the true story of a young Canadian woman traveling in Iran in the 1990’s. (I don’t believe the exact year of her travels is mentioned, but I vaguely remember a reference to Clinton as the US President, and the book’s copyright is 2000.)

The back of my copy of the book includes the huge spoiler of how this woman is able to travel extensively in Iran. (I HATE it when the back of a book tells me something I would rather not know before I start reading.)

I appreciate how Wearing manages to be funny without making fun of the folks she encounters. I was able to smile along with her because her writing shows a great love for most of the people she met. The majority of Iranians (and expats who stayed after the country’s Islamic Revolution) are portrayed as warm, affectionate, generous, caring, curious, concerned human beings. Wearing shows Iranians as a people who will go above and beyond, who will inconvenience themselves and their families, to make Canadian tourists comfortable .

I also appreciate that Wearing lets the Iranian people speak for themselves. Some folks she meets think life was better before the Islamic Revolution, when the Shah was in power. Others (of course) think life is better since the Shah was overthrown. Wearing allows both sides to have their say in her book.

However, I wish the author had woven historical facts in with her travel stories and character sketches. More facts about both the Shah’s reign and the Islamic Revolution would have put the people she met and the adventures she had in a historical context. Of course, maybe she expects me to do my own research. In that case, a bibliography would be nice, as I’m assuming she had some ideas about helpful references when she started writing.

Very interesting to me was Wearing’s experience of proper dress for traveling in Iran. Even as a Western tourist, she was expected to dress modestly, which really meant staying covered up, even in the desert heat. In many situations, she was dressed appropriately when wearing long pants; a long coat that came nearly to her ankles; and a scarf covering every bit of her hair, but in some situations (such as visiting Islamic holy sites), she was expected to further cover up by wearing a chaador on top of the whole outfit. While she writes extensively about feeling hot and confined by all of the black polyester fabric, about the sweat constantly rolling over her skin during the day and having to wash the salt deposits from the fabric at night, after months of dressing this way, she is uncomfortable in Iran when any stray bit of hair or skin shows.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I will probably never travel in Iran, so I was glad to live vicariously through Wearing. This is a book that I want to loan to friends, then read again when it finally makes its way back to me.