Monthly Archives: October 2013

Books Acquired Recently

Gundy, Jeff. Songs From an Empty Cage: Poetry, Mystery, Anabaptism, and Peace. Telford: Cascadia, 2013.

Jeff Gundy is one of my favorite poets, and he is also a friend of mine, so I buy anything he publishes. But I am especially excited about this book, which investigates the intersection between poetry and the transcendent. Gundy is one of the few active theorists in the small field of Mennonite literature, and to have him publish a new book of theory is a major event.

Spark, Muriel. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means, The Driver’s Seat, The Only Problem. New York: Everyman’s, 2004.

I was recently reading Patricia Waugh’s Metafiction, which discusses several of Spark’s novels in an engaging enough way that I decided I needed to read some of Spark’s work. I was happy to discover that Everyman’s Library has a volume of her fiction. I find the volumes in this series aesthetically delightful, especially their ribbon bookmarks. Note that, as I discuss in my post from 12 September 2013, because the title of the volume consists of titles of books, only the commas within the volume’s title get italicized.

Timms, Rachel, and Laurence Hayes. Whatever You Want: A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Novel. New York: Regan, 2003.

I recently read about the phenomenon of adult (and yes, this term does have a double meaning in the present instance) Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. I enjoyed this type of book as a boy, and as someone who studies formal developments in fiction I am eager to see what kind of reading experience Timms and Hayes’s book offers.

All three books were purchased on amazon.com.

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Thinking About The Mezzanine and Participating in Capitalism

I was re-reading Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine this afternoon because I am teaching it in my American Literature After 1945 class tomorrow, and I was struck by a passage that I hadn’t thought about much before (which is the beautiful thing about the novel: basically every paragraph is thought-provoking if it hits one in the proper frame of mind, thus making the book eminently re-readable because different passages will stand out at different times of one’s life). The narrator describes mailing a batch of varied correspondence and his subsequent feeling of importance:

“I became aware of the power of all these individual, simultaneously pending transactions: all over the city, and at selected sites in other states, events were being set in motion on my behalf, services were being performed, simply because I had requested them and in some cases paid or agreed to pay later for them” (21-22).

While not all of the correspondence that the narrator sends is financial in nature (e.g., he mails a letter to his grandparents), what struck me is that part of why capitalism survives is that it parcels out bits of fun to everyone when we buy things, even during seemingly small transactions. I suppose this is simply another way of saying that commodity fetishes exist, but nevertheless, it is necessary to note that we support the system just as much when we make a few small, aesthetically-pleasing purchases as when we buy a house because society teaches us that such a purchase is necessary to be considered “successful.” I happened to run several small capitalistic errands today, acquiring a variety of goods: a tank of gas, a snow shovel, a wine decanter (my favorite purchase), some trail mix, and a cup of coffee at a locally-owned coffeehouse. I had the same subtle, pleasing sense of accomplishment as the narrator does, which highlighted just how deep into the system I am.

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Books Acquired Recently

Bornstein, Kate. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. 1994. New York: Vintage, 1995.

Bornstein, Kate, and S. Bear Bergman, eds. Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation. Berkeley: Seal, 2010.

I’ve read bits and pieces of Bornstein’s work over the years and enjoyed it, and a colleague recently told me that she uses Bornstein’s work in her writing classes with great success, so I finally decided to buy and read some substantial chunks of her work. I am especially excited to read Gender Outlaw, but also thought that it would be helpful to read the more recent collection of essays on Bornstein’s original themes.

Lachman, Becca J.R. The Apple Speaks. Telford: DreamSeeker, 2012.

I bought this book now in order to get to amazon.com’s $25.00 free shipping threshold (happily, Bornstein’s books were quite inexpensive), but it has been on my “to buy” list for a while after a friend recommended it. I love Mennonite poetry, and am excited to read a newer voice in the field. The collection has poems with Anabaptist-influenced titles such as “An Anabaptist Learns Tai Chi,” “Talking Poetry With an Amish Bishop,” and “Reading Plath at a National Mennonite Convention” that whet my appetite for the rest of the book. Sadly, the cover is ugly and unappealing, and this has often been a weakness with Cascadia Publishing House’s (the parent company of DreamSeeker Books) books, along with terrible proofreading. But their content is always good.

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Books Acquired Recently

Deer Cloud, Susan. The Last Ceremony. Kanona: FootHills, 2007.

I bought this book today after Deer Cloud’s poetry reading at Utica College. It is always fascinating to hear poets read their work, and it is especially delightful when they read it well and when it is actually worth reading, which was the case in this instance. Deer Cloud had several of her books available for purchase at the reading, and I bought The Last Ceremony because it includes my favorite poem from the reading, “Marlon Brando Dies at 80,” a love poem to Brando that is motivated by both his activism on behalf of Native Americans and his sexiness. This poem and other samples of Deer Cloud’s work are available here. The book itself is a beautiful object, hand-bound with black thread and soothing lavender end sheets. It is worth its $16.00 price as an aesthetic artifact alone even before one considers the fine poetry contained therein.

Zacharias, Robert. Rewriting the Break Event: Mennonites and Migration in Canadian Literature. Winnipeg: U of Manitoba P, 2013.

I bought this book primarily because Zacharias is a friend of mine, though of course Mennonite literature is one of my scholarly interests, too. It’s nice to have the two converge! I am especially excited to read the chapter on Rudy Wiebe’s The Blue Mountains of China, a favorite novel of mine since I first read it in 2001.

Bought on amazon.com.

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Book Acquired Recently: Shirley Hershey Showalter’s Blush

Showalter, Shirley Hershey. Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Harrisonburg: Herald, 2013.

Showalter was the president of my alma mater, Goshen College, when I was a student there, and we have since become friends, in part because we are both interested in Mennonite literature. Her new memoir, Blush, is sure to be an important addition to this field. It is the story of Showalter’s Mennonite girlhood in the 1950s and 1960s. This was a fascinating time in the Mennonite community because the world made it increasingly more difficult for Mennonites to remain sectarian because of temptations such as higher education and various mass movements for justice (especially the Civil Rights movement).

Although Blush is published by Herald Press, the official publisher of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, the book anticipates a more-than-Mennonite audience via its glossary (if you don’t know what “the world” that I mentioned in the previous paragraph is, Blush‘s glossary will tell you!), which is wise considering the current memoir craze. Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, a bestseller in 2009, has already carved out a Mennonite niche in this craze (here is Showalter’s notorious review of Janzen’s book); it will be interesting to see whether non-Mennonites remain interested enough to buy Showalter’s book. Bill Moyers blurbed it, which is impressive, and should certainly help the book get some play in bookstores. I look forward to reading it!

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