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« July, 2002 »
The Open Door: When Writers First Learned to Read

Another book from the library books section of the library that could have been great but wasn’t. The idea is great: gather a bunch of essays from famous writers about learning to read, and what it meant to them. However, the compilation isn’t exactly this. The book is comprised of excerpts from books, not new essays by the authors. In many cases, the authors fiction has been used to indicate a personal story of the author, on the assumption that the story is semi-autobiographical. While there are some gems -- e.e. cummings and Ben Franklin come to mind -- the book is otherwise a good idea, mediocrely excecuted.

The Member of the Wedding

This short novel has the same characters as another book by McCullers that I really liked The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. The main character is the same -- a young girl with mixed-up feelings and an impetuous nature and not many friends. This book takes place during the dog days of summer when Frankie spends most every day hanging out in the kitchen with the maid and a local eight year old boy, doing nothing, talking about stuff, being lethargic. Her brother is going to be married and Frankie develops an odd crush on the wedding, on the idea of happiness made real, and becomes determined to be a part of their happiness, even if it means running away with them.

While it’s hard to understand exactly why Frankie does the things she does, her emotions feel real and her actions, though sometimes mystifying, always come from the heart. McCullers' books always include a lot of adolescent confusion, poverty, and longing for not necessarily a better lot, but just a more peaceful one.

What’ll You Take For It?

Yes, this book on bartering is written by that Annie Proulx, though you wouldn’t know it because no one dies, or commits suicide or is doomed to a long life of perpetual despair. I knew Annie Proulx could write well, I just often didn’t cotton to her sense of subject matter. This book is a great introduction to the wonderful world of barter, geared towards the complete beginner. Proulx goes into such subjects as how to make a good trade, some of the unspoken barter ethics, and what larger barter organizations are like and how to find them. There are amusing illustrations by Jeff Danziger to go along with the whole deal and the end result is an excellent primer on how to live slightly more off the grid than you may already.

Black Odyssey

I saw the overwrought Spielberg movie and was determined to learn more about what actually happened to the slaves who mutinied while at sea and found their ship landing in Connecticut to uncertain legal dominion. I spent a lot of time reading this slim book and hollering out loud “here’s another discrepancy...!”

I think we’re all aware that the big Hollywood movies tend to play free and easy with facts in order to suit their dramatic purpose, and since this book was small it was tough to tell what anecdotes in the movie might be true but there were some major points of issue:

  • the Amistads [as the black people who were aboard the ship were called] were attended to frequently while in prison and taught to read and write English by Yale students. They had good counsel for the majority of their legal odyssey
  • they were returned to Africa not by the US government but by a collection of Abolitionists and Missionaries who wanted to set up a mission in Sierra Leone and use the Amistads as preachers/coverts
  • John Quincy Adams -- while he did give a 100,000 word speech before the Supreme Court -- was not in any way reluctant to take the case on.

And those are only the major issues. While I think the movie had its good points -- slavery was worse than we can possibly imagine and people behave badly when their livelihoods are threatened -- overall I recommend that anyone really interested in the historical facts of the case read the book instead.

Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out

Most of the books I have read about disabled people are from the perspective of the disabled person and are somewhat autobiographical. The disabled in movies seem to often be either a tokenistic afterthought in the name of diversity, or someone who the movies goes through great pains to portray as "normal". As a result, none of these experiences have given me an overview of disabled culture, as such.

This book -- though it does contain many pieces I had read before -- provides such an overview. It has fiction, non-fiction, poetry and theater sections. The disabilities of the writers range from quadriplegia to hemophilia to cerebral palsy. Some of the pieces dwell on the disability, many do not. Very few of the writers are names you have heard of before unless you are well versed in the writing of the disabled. As a side note, many of the writers are also gay which creates an odd and interesting juxtaposition of subcultures