Monthly Archives: May 2012

Book Acquired Recently: Gabriel García Márquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera

Márquez, Gabriel García. Love in the Time of Cholera. 1988. Trans. Edith Grossman. New York: Vintage, 2003.

A good friend of mine has recommended this book to me numerous times, and finally insisted that I must read it NOW, so I went and picked it up. I’ve previously read Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude and his collection of short stories No One Writes to the Colonel, and I am told that Love in the Time of Cholera is even better than these. I am looking forward to it!

Bought at The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Home by Toni Morrison

I just finished reading Toni Morrison’s new novel, Home. It is not her best book, but is still a beautiful achievement. It exemplifies the smooth, vivid prose which evokes scenes clearly in readers’ minds that makes her one of my favorite authors. Home is not as good as her two finest works, Beloved and Song of Solomon, but it is in that impressive second echelon of her works (Sula, Love, The Bluest Eye, Paradise, in no particular order), which by any other standard than Morrison’s would be masterpieces.

Home is interesting because of the relationship between the seemingly omniscient narrator and its protagonist, Frank Money, who is given short chapters to speak back to how the narrator is telling his story. He reveals that the narrator is sometimes wrong about her(?) judgments of him, and that she sometimes gets the facts wrong. I don’t ever care deeply about Frank as a person like I do about some of Morrison’s other characters (e.g., Guitar in Song of Solomon; perhaps Home‘s shortness contributes to this lack), but I care about his narrative enough that it is hard to put the book down.

I also appreciate how Morrison tells the story from numerous characters’ perspectives, though Frank’s narrative is the primary one. It is helpful to hear the other characters explain their actions in the same way that Frank explains his rather than just hearing his side of their shared experiences. The most important case of this is when we get a chapter from his grandmother’s perspective because she is the most oppressive individual person in his life (i.e., whites as a whole are more oppressive than she is), but we find out why she acts the way she does, which makes her more sympathetic.

It is a great relief that Morrison is still near the top of her game at the end of her career. There are places where the novel could use more detail, but it is a strong effort nonetheless. Overall, I rate the book 4/5, definitely worth reading.

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Books Acquired Recently

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood. New York: Grand Central, 1989.

Butler’s Kindred is one of my favorite books, but I’ve never read any of her science fiction (SF) novels. This book, along with Card’s, is for an independent study I’m doing with a student this summer.

Card, Orson Scott, ed. Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century. New York: Ace, 2001.

This is a decent, cheaply-priced anthology, which is why I assigned it. But it omits Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, and Joanna Russ, so I am having a difficult time taking it seriously. There’s no use pretending that only white males write SF any more.

Goodman, Linda. Venus Trines At Midnight. 1970. Charlottesville: Hampton Roads, 1998.

I bought this book because a friend recently sent me a lovely poem from it, “The Fish Meets the Water-Bearer” (http://readalittlepoetry.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/the-fish-meets-the-water-bearer-by-linda-goodman/). I began reading the collection tonight, and while many of Goodman’s poems rely too much on sing-songy verse rhymes and astrological imagery (the blurb describes her as “the world’s best-known astrologer”), enough of them contain lines that are either spot-on insights or beautifully-turned phrases to make the book an enjoyable one. Here are the last few lines from the title poem:

Now that we’re so intimately acquainted in dreams

for old times’ sake

couldn’t I run into your arms just once

when we’re alone–and awake?

 

hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End, 1990.

I love bell hooks but have read way too little of her work. This is one of her germinal essay collections.

Stross, Charles. Accelerando. 2005. New York: Ace, 2006.

I was considering this for my SF independent study and ended up not assigning it, but it looks fascinating and I have a book-buying addiction, so I bought it.

All purchased on amazon.com.

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Why I Care About Sports

This post is for all you haters out there (you know who you are!) who mock otherwise-intelligent people like me for being sports fans. My colleagues in academia are often baffled when they find out that I follow sports.  Part of this surprise is a form of classism: sports fandom is seen as blue collar, and thus uneducated, and so why would I want to sit in the stands with all of those Republican drones? (Ooh, see what I just did there? Republican=uneducated.) But most of this surprise stems from some legitimate critiques of sports that I generally agree with. Here are three examples:

1. Professional athletes are way, way overpaid.

This is absolutely the case. There is no way to justify anyone making millions of dollars a year at any activity (not just sports) while issues of hunger and homelessness still exist in the United States. My fondness for sports does not preclude me from also having a fondness for Marx.

2. Collegiate athletics are both exploitative of their athletes and an insult to the educational mission of colleges and universities.

As someone who teaches in an underfunded field, English, I agree with this point. NCAA Division I athletics (and oftentimes athletic programs in lower divisions as well) are a travesty. There is so much wrong with them that I can’t even begin to untangle the mess here. I would be happy if all schools stopped giving athletic scholarships and actually put the emphasis in “student-athlete” back on “student.”

3. Sports are just a game. They aren’t like other leisure activities such as reading that also have societal/political significance. It is a waste of energy to care about them.

This is somewhat of true. A great example of grownups seeming to care way too much about sports occurred this past weekend during the final day of the English Premier League as the championship fight between Manchester United and Manchester City went down to (almost literally) the last second (here’s an excellent recap of what was at stake and what happened by Chris Ryan http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7927466/today-gonna-day, and here are two photos of grownup fans seeming to care too much http://guyism.com/sports/manchester-city-wins-epl-championship-in-dramatic-comeback.html). I didn’t cry after those fuckers City won the title, but sports has moved me to tears on more occasions than I would like to admit. Every time I watch a game and my team loses, I am put into a bad mood for the rest of the day and curse myself for caring. I know that my teams will bring me inconsistent joy at best (though when this joy does come along it is better than the pain), whereas if I had spent those two or three hours reading a book I would be happy and smarter, and it is for this reason that this blog will primarily focus on literature.

Nevertheless, I continue to follow sports because they, like literature, help me to feel part of something bigger than myself. (The dichotomy between sports and literature that I’ve implicitly set up here is, of course, a false one, as they share many features. One of the reasons I like sports is because they offer me another kind of narrative: an inning, a game, a season, the history of a franchise….) Sports create community, and that is significant. Some reporters estimated that over six hundred million watched the Manchester derby between United and City at the end of April (I, too, was watching). It was a really neat feeling to be a part of something together with just under a tenth of the entire world. As a scholar, it is clear that I should care about an event that affects so many people.

On a smaller scale, sports connects me to my original geographic community, New York City. Whenever I see someone wearing a Mets hat, a connection, however small, is made, just like a connection is made when I see a stranger reading one of my favorite books at a coffeehouse.

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Book Acquired Recently: James Tiptree, Jr.’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Tiptree, James Jr. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. San Francisco: Tachyon, 2004.

Bought at amazon.com

I read one of Tiptree’s short stories, “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” about a year ago and loved it, and since then I’ve been looking for her (James Tiptree, Jr. is a pseudonym for Alice Sheldon) books in bookstores. Salt Lake City has a fantastic bookstore scene–the best I’ve encountered outside of New York City–but it lacks in the science fiction (SF) department, so I finally broke down and ordered the book online. I am only two stories in thus far, but the second story, “The Screwfly Solution,” is immediately one of my favorite SF stories. Like “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?,” it manages to communicate a strong feminist message without being pedantic. The epidemic of femicide that breaks out as a result of Christian fundamentalism is not that far-fetched. It is a slight extension of the misogyny portrayed in texts such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which already occurs in places such as Iran and in polygamist Mormon sects in rural Utah (see Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven for more on this topic).

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New Bookends

Here is a pair of new bookends that I bought at a local vintage shop this past Friday. I love their languid elegance.

The book being held up by the top bookend is Samuel R. Delany’s new novel, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, which I am super-excited to read. I read an excerpt last summer that was fantastic–beautiful language, vivid characters, unabashed sexuality.

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Blogging Again.

Welcome to my new blog! I’ve made several previous attempts at blogging that have been derailed for various reasons. The most recent, and most successful, which died due to technical difficulties, is here: http://www.anewyorkerinexile.blogspot.com/. But I’m paying for this one, and one would hope that this factor will give me extra motivation. This summer my goal is to write some every day, whether I am writing here, or writing literary criticism, or writing poetry, or fiction, whatever. The blog will focus primarily on literary topics, but may also address sports (especially now, with the Mets still contending in the National League East and the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final of the Stanley Cup playoffs) and other topics.

“I celebrate myself, / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

–Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” (1855)

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