Thursday, April 30, 2009

Diversity in reading

I find it very easy to get into a reading rut, finding an author or a genre I enjoy and running with it. That said, I try to mix it up, and one of my favorite things about the Fearless Readers is that it generally has me reading books and authors I never would have heard about. I believe I once described it to Lynne as the thing that keeps me from reading yet another Irvine Welsh.

Anyway, I am snagging this meme from Matthew, whose literature blog I've recently discovered. I'll stick with books from this year, unless I have to dig deeper to find ones that qualify. I'd love to hear your comments and suggestions as well!

Name the last book by a female author that you've read.
This is an easy one for me, as I read a lot of woman authors. I am currently reading Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor, and read Twilight by Stephenie Meyer just before this.

Name the last book by an African or African American author that you've read.
I read Sula by Toni Morrison (also female!) in March. Before that, it was Edward P. Jones's excellent short story collection, Lost in the City, in January.

Name one from a Latino/a author.

I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz earlier this month.

How about one from an Asian country or an Asian American?

This is my weakest category. Thanks to the Fearless Readers, I read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami a few years ago, as well as The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I suppose Salman Rushdie is technically Indian as well, though I am not sure he would qualify in this particular exercise.

What about a GLBT writer?
This is the toughest for me to answer, mostly because I have no clue who qualifies! One list I found puts Brideshead Revisited, which I read last month, as #19 on the list of the 100 best GLBT books of all time. Of the authors I know to be considered GLBT, I've read David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Michael Cunningham and Jeanette Wintersen. I believe Virginia Woolf would be included as well. Another list I found also included Brett Easton Ellis, James Barrie, Nikolai Gogol, John Knowles, Anne Rice, and Bram Stoker. So I guess I've covered this category relatively well, but without having any focus on doing so.

Why not name an Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian writer, if you're feeling lucky?
I have to go back a few years for this one as well, to The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights. You guessed it - Fearless Readers again!

Any other "marginalized" authors you've read lately?
I don't think so, not lately... some American men, more women, a couple of Brits... none really qualify as "marginalized!"

Do you read non-fiction regularly? Do you read it in a different way or place than you read fiction?

I used to mix non-fiction in with my fiction on a regular basis, but since the Bug came along I have less time to read in general, and I tend to focus on fiction. I do read the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine... do they count?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

We'll miss ya, Bea

I've had a bit of brain congestion and have been without any pearls of wisdom to share over the past few days. In the mean time, please enjoy this snappy little number, wherein the late, great Bea Arthur and Rock Hudson quaff cocktails while waxing poetic about their favorite recreational drugs. No, really. I am not making this up.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I can't remember the last time I read as blatant a work of pulp fiction as Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. The book tells the story of high school junior Bella Swan, who moves from Phoenix to the rainy town of Forks, Washington. She is immediately captivated by her handsome classmate Edward Cullen, who happens to be a member of the town's non-people-eating vampire family. He also falls for Bella, forbidden love ensues, followed by terror and conflict, before all ends happily for the lovebirds.

Reading this book in public actually embarrassed me to the point of blushing more than once. No, there are no crazy sex scenes; they barely even get to first base (whatever that is: holding hands? kissing? making googly eyes?), for crying out loud! No, it was the cheesy-ass writing that killed me. The novel is predictably written in the first person, and Bella's constant references to Edward's breathtaking amber eyes, or the way his perfectly muscled chest showed through his shirt cracked me up every time. 15-year-olds probably eat this shit up. It certainly did remind me of the goofy crap I wrote in high school - the stuff that caused one peer reviewer to remark, "You beat the brown eyes to death!" Which, truth be told, I did. And which Meyer does, too, in Twilight.

There was one premise to the entire novel that I never could quite get over. Not vampires; I'm totally cool with them. Not even vampire-human love; hello, Buffy and Angel, Buffy and Spike, et cetera... The problem with Twilight is that why the hell would hundred-year-old, interesting, drop-dead gorgeous Edward finally find his one true love in ordinary old Bella? I mean, Buffy's a slayer, and not even an average one of those - there's good reason why both Angel and Spike fell in love with her. But Bella? She's just a regular, kinda dorky, high school kid. Edward claims time and again that she's so special, that he can't stop thinking about her, and blah, blah, blah, but I just couldn't see it.

So if you pretend for just a minute that it isn't completely far-fetched, and that Edward may actually for whatever reason have fallen head-over-heels in love with Bella, the book's pretty enjoyable. Schmaltzy, yes; high literature, absolutely not; but it is embarrassingly fun to read.

Next up: Assuming I can find it today, I'll start the Fearless Readers' next selection, Three by Flannery O'Connor. Meeting is May 7, if you are interested.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

So, um, yeah. Pregnant again.

First of all, thanks to everyone who's shared happy thoughts and well-wishes - we're all really excited, and it's fun to hear you say such nice things!

So I guess I should give you a quick update on what's what. I'm almost 12 weeks pregnant, due on November 6. I feel great - no nausea, no nothing - though I've been incredibly tired for the past couple of months. If I yawn when you're talking, it is likely not because you're boring me. Yesterday I actually craved chocolate, notable both because I never crave chocolate, and because it came on the heels of a pickle-craving... a bit stereotypical, no? Yes, I will still run the Bolder-Boulder. No, we will not find out if this one's a boy or a girl. Yes, Joker gets 49% of the name vote again. And anyone who says that not drinking is no big deal is totally lying.

All signs point to a healthy baby thus far, and I am thrilled that's "baby" in the singular. The Bug knows that there's a "baby in Mommy's tummy," but I'm pretty sure she won't know her world's about to be rocked until the baby actually arrives. And until said baby shows his or her face, s/he will go by the Moppet on this blog. You'll also see a new post label - something that separates the "baby stuff" from the, I don't know... "kid stuff"?? Still working on that.

I cannot even fathom the increase in chaos we'll experience, but lucky for me, I'm way to busy to even think about it. Thanks again for all your virtual high fives!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Bug's got something to share...

Yep, you heard that right... Our family grows on or about November 6!! (Though technically, I'll do a lot of growing between now and then.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I began reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz with very high expectations. It has received tons of critical acclaim (including receiving the Pulitzer Prize), and is raved about by a number of friends whose literary opinions I hold in high regard. I knew nothing about the book itself, though, and when I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning chapters I thought I was in for a treat. Unfortunately I found it really never went anywhere, and I think it'll be one of those books that I don't think about much now that I'm through with it.

The book tells the story of Oscar de Leon, a fat, nerdy kid from the Dominican Republic growing up in Paterson, NJ. Oscar's family is not just any immigrant family, however; they may or may not have had a powerful fuku, or curse, levied upon them by the former dictator of the DR. If you believe in the fuku, much of Oscar's story was pre-determined by the actions of his maternal grandfather and, later, by Oscar's mother. Oscar is simply playing out the part that was written, living out his slothful, sci-fi-loving dork-life, and making tragically poor decisions along the way.

Diaz is a talented writer, with a casual style peppered with Spanish slang (much of which is clearly Dominican colloquialism I'd never heard before) and sentence fragments. He references Dungeons & Dragons, The Lord of the Rings, and Shakespeare with equal agility, and somehow manages to make it all feel organic to the story. I can imagine his short stories are deserving of their praise, but I found his various devices less and less compelling by the end of the novel.

Next up: teen vampire romance novel Twilight, which I begin with far lower expectations.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We Skype now

We do a video chat with my parents every week or two so that they can see and hear what the Bug is up to, in her own words (and songs). We'd been using SightSpeed, but had run into a stretch of terrible luck and uncompleted calls. So last week, we switched to Skype - what a difference! It seems much more reliable, the picture quality is quite good, even blown up to full screen, and the audio actually works so we don't have to carry both the phone and the laptop around with us.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Heck yeah, Iowa and Vermont!

A hearty - if slightly belated - congratulations to our civil rights-loving friends in Iowa and Vermont! In the last week, both Iowa and Vermont have joined Massachusetts and Connecticut (as well as Belgium, Norway, Spain, the Netherlands, and most recently Sweden) in legalizing same-sex marriages. The two latest victories are each notable for a different reason. Iowa becomes the first state not located on one of the "liberal" coasts to overturn a gay marriage ban, and Vermont is the first proactive legislation not spurred by a court mandate.

As I have said before, I truly believe we will look back on the gay marriage issue as akin to the old miscegenation laws banning interracial marriage. There is some very good momentum here, and every person who values his or her civil rights should feel proud. Other states, including New York and New Jersey, are currently preparing legislation to allow for same-sex marriages. Yes, there is a lot of work to do, but we're making some real progress.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh's sharp wit and keen insight into the peculiarities of society have made me a huge fan of his satires. Without losing those wonderful qualities, Brideshead Revisited is far more subtle - and displays far more nuanced writing - than Waugh's satirical works. It is a poetic portrait of English aristocracy, a highly personal examination of the Catholic church, and an insightful dive into personal relationships. It's a wonderful book.

Narrator and protagonist Charles Ryder met Sebastian Flyte while in his first year at Oxford, and he was quickly enamored. Sebastian was rich, handsome, charming, and a flamboyant homosexual who surrounded himself with other quirky characters. Having far outspent his allowance, Charles returns home to his father for the long summer vacation. When Charles hears that Sebastian has been injured, he joins him at Brideshead, Sebastian's family estate, for the remainder of the summer. The two develop a deep friendship, with a romantic relationship hinted at as well.

Over the ensuing years, Charles spends a great deal of his vacation time with Sebastian at Brideshead, effectively becoming a member of the Marchmain family. Sebastian, however, has begun a slide into alcohol abuse, and becomes increasingly withdrawn and difficult. During one particularly trying episode, Charles funds one of Sebastian's binges, which gets Charles ousted from his comfortable and beloved position. Sebastian's descent ultimately finds him living as a charity case in a north African monastery.

Nearly ten years later, Charles, now married and a successful artist, encounters Sebastian's sister Julia on a cross-Atlantic cruise. The two pick up their friendship, which rapidly evolves into a romance. Charles moves into Brideshead to live with Julia, and they both begin the process of divorcing so that they can legitimize their relationship.

When Julia's father unexpectedly returns to Brideshead to die, the entire family struggles with their Catholicism and its influence over their own lives. The most significant theme in the novel is, in fact, the Catholic church and the implications of living without Christianity. In contrast to more typical examinations of religion, it is the believers amongst the Marchmain family who poke holes in Charles's atheism. A number of characters experience divine grace and reconciliation with the Church, and many undergo some level of conversion to faith.

There are trademark Waugh moments of hilarity, such as Anthony Blanche's description of "absurd women in the sort of hats they should be made to eat," or Charles's father asking, "Was it her little moustache you objected to or her very large feet?" I've not known Waugh to disappoint, and Brideshead Revisted may be his very best.

Next up for me: Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

Dueling fiddles

I am contrite in the face of some alarming new evidence. I fear the situation depicted yesterday may be less than entirely accurate. In homage to the Obama administration, complete transparency is demanded. In that spirit, allow me to present the following:

Exhibit A: Dinner time. The Bug's just gotten her second plate of pasta onto which she's sprinkled a generous spoonful of parmesan. She asks for more; Mommy says she has enough cheese. She asks again; she says "please;" Mommy envisions being the recipient of the Bug's biggest post-dinner hug. Mommy passes the cheese, and the Bug helps herself to more.

Exhibit B: Bath time. The Bug has five wash cloths. She asks for the blue one. Mommy explains the blue one is in the hamper. Again with the "please." Mommy digs the blue wash cloth out of the hamper; washes it in the sink; tosses it into the tub.

Methinks accurate fiddle accounting would show that the Bug is orchestrating something of a jam session.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My husband the fiddle

In the nights since Sunday's all-night disaster, the Bug has all but returned to her normal habits. She woke up two or three times on Monday night, twice on Tuesday night, and once last night. Each time, I got up first and went in to comfort her. She did not conceal her disappointment. She cried for her Dada, arched her back when I picked her up, tried to wiggle out of my arms, and then cried some more for her Dada. I explained to her that Daddy was tired and sleeping, and that Mommy was tired, too, and I'd sing one song and we'd both go to bed. (Don't laugh; she actually requests those songs!) She'd pretty quickly assess her options, decide that laying her head on my shoulder was probably the best one, and within five minutes I'd be back in bed.

Poor little Bug - she didn't realize that her Mommy and Daddy had wised up. You see, the Bug is nobody's fool. She has, however, identified the fool. And now, she plays him like a fiddle. You see, Daddy will pick her up and cuddle for hours. Daddy will sit nearby patiently while she lies in bed awake. Daddy will run to the kitchen to get her some milk. Mommy will put her back in bed and leave the room. Further, Daddies are biologically programmed to come a-running when their baby girls cry out for them. "Mama" they can ignore; "Dada" they cannot. I can't blame the Bug for wanting her Daddy; given that choice, I would, too!

So by strategically leaping out of bed first and heading off the Daddy, I have quieted the beast. By severely reducing the Bug's reward for her mid-REM outbursts, I've made them worth less than the effort expended. The cost-benefit analysis results in a negative. It's a better use of her time to just keep sleeping. And the added benefit to Mommy? Something with which to mercilessly tease sweet Joker.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Think they have tiny doorways in Buckingham Palace?

Am I the only person who find it humorous that our first couple is approximately two and a half feet taller than QE2 and Prince Philip? And is he stooping down a little in an attempt to minimize the height differential?