February 2005 Books

Well, I am sorry to report I didn’t read much during February. Is it because people keep asking me to go out and have fun with them, thereby cutting in to my valuable reading time? Is it because I insisted this month on reading a lot of non-fiction, historically not my strong suit? I do not know. I kept track of everything I did read this month though, so you may play along at home. People, stop calling me and wanting me to go out and have fun! Have you seen the size of the stack of books beside my bed? Have you?

February 2, 2005
Don’t Think Of An Elephant: Know Your Values And Frame The Debate by George Lakoff

I’m a little embarrassed that this weetsy little 120-page book took me two days to read…it wasn’t very good bus reading, and then it wasn’t very good bed reading, so I had to finish it up on the couch listening to Costa Rican guitar music and eating my dinner while Housemate J. studies. This doesn’t mean that it’s not good reading in general, though, because it sure is. I am quite interested in the idea of frames, and certainly by the plain summaries of progressive and conservative values…I spent a lot of time going “Oh…right!” as I was reading. I need to spend some more time understanding my own progressive values and probably I will have to read this again. I had planned to read it since before the election but never got around to it. When I got home from Christmas vacation, true story, there it was in my house mail slot, with a little post-it note with my name on it. I don’t know who left it there for me but I appreciate it very much, Mystery Progressive-Values-And-Idea-Driven-Debate-Proponent Book Giver!

February 3, 2005
A Quaker Book Of Wisdom: Life Lessons In Simplicity, Service, and Common Sense by Robert Lawrence Smith

This is what the Seattle Public Library had for me when I did a search on Quakerism, and I have to say that I was a little bit afraid that it was going to be too Chicken Soup for the Quaker’s Soul or something. Instead it is a compact little book that gives some of the history of the Quaker religion and some of the precepts by which some of them try to live their lives. I have never got too far in understanding too much about this type of spirituality so it was very helpful for me to be able to read an accessible introduction. Not too self-helpy and a quick bus-and-bed read.

February 5, 2005
Eating Mammals by John Barlow

A set of three novellas about strange occurrences having to do with various animals, some of which are eaten, yes. I read this while in the middle of another big book, and found myself responding to the prose in a pretty visceral way…I’d be reading and notice that I was all hunched up with worry for a protagonist. In one scene about a Victorian courtroom, I formed absolute opinions about how I thought it should go, and I got upset at the judge for not ruling the way I wanted. I fell pretty deep into the worlds of these stories and enjoyed myself very much, thanks.

February 7, 2005
Passing For Thin: Losing Half My Weight And Finding Myself by Frances Kuffel
Another short book I’ve read while taking breaks from a big book that won’t fit in my bag comfortably enough to take on the bus. I’d heard a lot about this book when it came out a year ago, I think, but a review of it at ChickLit prompted me to put it on my hold list, by which I live or die, reading-wise. Anyway. I found this book annoying for reasons I can’t put my finger on. The narrative feels a little loose, but that’s not quite it. I didn’t relate to her device of the planets: the Planet of Fat, the Planet of Girl, etc, but that’s not it either. I think she told the truth about her life and her weight loss and her food addiction and so on, so it’s not that…but something about this book wouldn’t allow me to fully believe in it, if that doesn’t sound too ridiculous or hokey. I read the words and everything but that was it, it didn’t make a lot of intuitive sense to me. I don’t think it’s because I haven’t experienced massive weight loss like she has; I certainly related to many of the self-loathing feelings and negative body image stuff. So I don’t know what didn’t let me get into this book.

February 9, 2005
Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Another itty, delicious book stolen at the gym and on the bus in between the workmanlike page-turning required by a big non-fiction whomper I am concurrently reading. This was over way quicker than I wanted it to be…I’d have been happy if it had lasted twice as long. I kept the image of the words written on the inside of the sheepskin jacket with me for a couple of days.

February 10, 2005
Wonderland: A Year In The Life Of An American High School by Michael Bamberger

Another book that made me wonder what exactly it’s about. It’s a non-fiction…expose? Literary version of a documentary? I don’t know. It’s about a bunch of kids at a high school in Pennsylvania and also about some of their teachers. The school has a famous prom that’s held in the gym and that the whole town supports. The kids do different things. The end. The prose felt awkward, to me, a little flat. I kept getting stuck on certain passages and wondering if actual high school students had written the book. I submit:

”Dinner was served in the cafeteria, by parents. No, dinner was served in the dining room, by anonymous, polite, staff. The menu was baked ziti, roast beef, chicken marsala, green beans, corn, parsely potatoes. There was a salad course and a dessert table. The drinks menu consisted of iced tea, punch, milk, and coffee. The cups were plastic, but the plates were real china, and the tables were covered with white tablecloths, with candles and flower arrangements every few feet (p. 180).”

“The drinks menu consisted of”? Also:

”Her relationship with Harry had changed. They weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend. Nothing like it. But they had toured Tullytown in the Fat Fender together, frittered a night away together dancing on the gym floor, gone out to the Great American Diner for a three a.m. breakfast. They were bonded for life. For Harry, Kelly Heich would always be the answer to the question ‘Who’d you go to your prom with?’”

What does that even mean? What kind of paragraph is that? It sounds like a parody of itself, somehow. Maybe I’m just jealous because I didn’t go to my prom.

January 13, 2005
Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett

Another set of intricate stories by Andrea Barrett, who, fortunately for me, has written three other books, all of which I intend to read as soon as possible. It’s been a long time since I’ve been as excited by an author…I sort of feel the way I did in college when I started reading Jane Austen and was so excited to know that there were six whole novels I could read. This set of stories has some connections with some of the stories in Servants Of The Map and it was so exciting when I saw a name I recognized; as happy and surprised as I would be if I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for years randomly at the grocery store.

January 16, 2005
Why We Eat What We Eat: How The Encounter Between the New World and the Old Changed the Way Everyone On The Planet Eats by Raymond Solokov

I’m freaking out because it’s the middle of the month and I still have this tall stack of books by my bed and I have had to stop putting things on hold at the library because I can’t seem to get through a book in more than three days of little sips on the bus and over my dinner and right before bed. Maybe people should stop inviting me out or something. Anyway, I was intrigued by the premise of this book, which is, conveniently, spelled right out in the title. The book itself wasn’t quite up to speed, I don’t think…first of all the early nineties’ obsession this dude has with nouvelle cuisine was a little tiresome. I was looking for a little more food anthropology and ethnography and a little less…randomness, I think. The first couple of chapters deal extensively with Mexico and Puerto Rico and Brazil, and those are great, but then there are weird disjointed one-page chapters called “Cherimoya” and “Manioc” and they don’t get deep enough to give you any real idea how they fit into the big picture. I did like the bits about Peruvian potatoes, though.

February 28, 2005
Sex The Measure Of All Things: A Life Of Alfred C. Kinsey by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy

Oh, MAN. I cannot believe it’s taken me this long to finish this book. I read most of the above as breaks from this book and have finally shut the back cover on it, mere hours away from the end of February. Okay, anyway, so over Thanksgiving I saw Kinsey and realized I had heard of the Kinsey Report but didn’t know anything about anything else related to it. I got this at the library, like, a month ago and at first it was all very exciting. I remember thinking that for a huuuuuge biography, it was reading sort of like a novel and I always like that. I liked the part about Kinsey’s early life in Hoboken (the author is British and includes a footnote for his readers on how to pronounce Hoboken, which struck me as funny for some reason, all those weeks ago) and about his crazy dad and about his involvement in the Boy Scouts and also about his collecting trips when he was working on gall wasps. I thought the sex history methodology was really fascinating and, having given many a psych interview in my time, thought it was crazy that the code used for the interviews had to be completely memorized and still has never been written down. And of course I was interested in all the kinky stuff about Kinsey’s private life too…although, in case you are wondering, I would say that for the biography of a very sexy sex researcher, which includes words like “masturbation” and “brothel-trawlers” and “autoerotic asphyxiation” and “sex you up till the break of dawn” (I think that phrase was in the endnotes somewhere), this has to be the least sexy book I’ve ever read, and I’m including all my social work textbooks with titles like Psychoanalytic Case Formulation in Weekly Psychotherapy when I say that. I know the whole deal with a biography is to provide exhaustive detail, and Gathorne-Hardy certainly does that, too, to the detriment of the story in my mind. Oh, also, there seems to be this feud with this other Kinsey biographer who wrote this other book which Gael very nicely sent me a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t read that one yet…I’m a little Kinseyed out…but now I’m sort of curious as to what that one’s all about. Apparently it’s all very anti-Kinsey and all Kinsey represents (especially the tolerance for homosexuality), where the book I actually read was altogether pro-Kinsey. I am making myself tired just writing about this and I have two bellydance classes tonight so I need to save my strength. So, anyway, yes, lots of information about Alfred Kinsey, a pretty good analysis of the social system that produced Kinsey and made his work revolutionary, and also a great many pages. I am glad I read this but I am going off on a long fiction binge now, thanks very much.

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