Wednesday, June 08, 2005

For the love of Books

For the love of Books: "My first reading indiscretion took place when I was eleven years old. My friend got a free copy of a..."

Whether it's Janet Jackson's clothing malfunction, Will & Grace, or the internet porn utopia, much has been said about how the media is plucking the virginal flowers of our youths. Concerned parents and activist politicians push for new regulations every state and federal legislative term. Their kids are being exposed to things their young minds are not capable of understanding and/or putting into context with the "real world."

But what about the book industry? Since the first mass-produced books hit the markets, efforts to ban specific titles have plagued local schools and community libraries becuase of raunchy and inappropriate material. In rebuttal, most school districts see the impact of such literature and make it part of the required reading curriculum. The intent of literature is not to simply entertain, it also serves to educate and enlighten. To this day, one of my favorite essays is A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. I remember reading it aloud in class, watching other students squirm at some of the propositions, and enjoying it all like a fatal car crash on the side of the road. When I read it again years later, I could define satire in my own terms; not in the language I once memorized from an English textbook.

In a society where fornication can be described in three manners (sex, f-ing, and making love) our culture is not longer overly sensitive to erotic writings. Why then, do we concern ourselves with what our children see and seek out on the internet? The title of this post is a link to a excellent essay on romance books. I've never seen romance titles to have a purpose in any respectable library. I see the people that walk out of bookstores with these books piled 10- and 12-high under their arms and can only feel for them. Not only do I think about what their husbands must feel like, but then I correct my thoughts...if these womens' husbands cared at all, their wives would not be buying sexual thrills at 6.99 a pop.

After reading the essay, I, again, have to correct myself. Like my respect for the Kama Sutra, some women feel the same way about their Harlequin monthlies. Sure, a 35-year-old mother with three kids, a husband, and two dogs probably doesn't need to be educated on sex, but what about making love? Have these women ever been exposed to a night of passion mixed with pleasure as described in these novels?

Maybe this post isn't so much about the book media as it is about the primal difference between status quo expectations for men and women. Generalization: men don't make love, they have sex - they act to procreate, and hope to fail; women prefer to make love - an honest act of love, admiration, and respect...honest because it's nonverbal.

Or, maybe this post is exactly about how the book media is failing to bring together the sexes. If the Kama Sutra focused on emotions and scene-setting instead of procedure would men be more romantic? If romance novels weren't so much flowers and lace, could love-making be more than a fantasy?

The reason some books find themselves on the banned books list is because they take ballsy, revolutionary steps outside the realm of what society expects and what it's comfortable with. That literature is new and innovative in such a way that it holds an honest, clean mirror in front of our faces rather than clouding and covering our blemished desires, urges, and truths. The only romance novel I've ever purchased and read is Jane Eyre. That novel is romance at its real level. The heroin is not big-busted and perfect. The hero is not suave and gentile. The characters are every day people finding how to love and discovering their lives were just a combination of fear, pride, and emptiness. Maybe men and women aren't looking for the perfect romance; maybe we're looking for the lives we're missing out on without even blemished romance.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Summer reading

Summer reading: "There's a little something for everyone -- Vampires! Time travelers! British babes! -- in this selection of page turners guaranteed to make your summer shine."

Salon's Summer reading list. Don't know if I agree with some of these, but I don't have time to read everything on the shelves, and Salon usually does a pretty good job with their recommendations. If these don't look enticing, you might want to check out what's new on Powell's - I actually advise subscribing to their RSS review feed (it sends book reviews from various magazines and newspapers to your feeder). Or, my personal list of new books that deserve at least a peak.

1. History of Love by Nicole Krauss
2. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
3. How We Are Hungry by Dave Eggers
4. Zorro: A Novel by Isabel Allende
5. The Twelfth Card by Jeffrey Deaver

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Washingtonienne, a Novel

The Washingtonienne, a Novel: "Jessica Cutler's roman � clef chronicles the sexploits of a young woman who humps her way around Capitol Hill, only to have her anonymous blog bring her life crashing down around her. By Susannah Breslin.PLUS: Read an excerpt from the book."

If Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, then why are so many failed-somebodies turning to fiction to tell their "stories"? I have seen Jessica Cutler's book, The Washingtonienne, but I have not read it. It's got an outstanding cover - a great cleavage shot, a bubble-gum, charm necklace, and a Capitol charm nestled between the breasts - but anything so blatantly feminine and sexy I assume to fall into the newly-popular "chic-lit" genre. I have no problem with this genre, but as a 26-year-old male, me buying/reading one of these books would be like buying tampons at the grocery store.

However, after reading this article in Wired, I might pick it up. I'm not expecting the break-out novel of the year, but the book does have some appeal, namely the story is based on events that really happened, and people that really exist. It's not the first. The last one of these that I read was Stephen Glass's novel, The Fabulist. Without having read The Washingtonienne, I cannot compare the two...yet. But, an aside about Glass's book demonstrates my interest in Cutler's book.

Glass lost his job at The New Republic after his stories came under scrutiny and claims of fabrication. The Fabulist is about a reporter for a like-minded magazine caught in the same debacle. It was a fictional account of his life, and a rationalization of his motives. He contends his novel was not this, but anyone who could suffer past the opening chapters, can clearly see his fictional character as the writer's own shadow. Glass's stories for The New Republic were good; so good in fact, that I'm surprised questions weren't asked sooner. He had a gift for creating characters and situations and then a style of writing that made it all make sense. I expected this same trademark on the novel. I still wait for a second novel - he's completely capable of writing a good novel, he's a master story-teller, just a shitty journalist.

I always wondered why Glass chose fiction instead of the memoir for his story. I can only imagine fiction allows him another mask to hide his truths and fictions behind.

But what about Jessica Cutler. I've never heard of her prior to this release, but I wonder why she, too, chose fiction rather than truth. This is the exact subject-matter genre that reigns modern literature these days. The re-emergence of creative nonfiction is responsible for such break-out writers like Augusten Burroughs and Dave Eggers. It's easier to craft fiction when it's only based on fact, not when it's re-coloring fact from black and white into lighter shades of gray.

I'll probably read the book sometime after the release of Harry Potter 6 (maybe right after, sending my brain into a mud-sliding 360) just to see if any of my premature speculations/correlations to Glass's book are correct and I'll probably never admit to reading it. It's harder to justify reading bad fiction than buying tampons.

The Da Vinci Code and Christianity in America

The Da Vinci Code and Christianity in America: "This has nothing to do with politics, but I felt that we should have a post today."

I read The Da Vinci Code weeks after its debut. The company was pushing it long before its release in April, 2002. At first, I didn't want to be a part of the book's marketing campaign so I waited to see the public response. It made the bestseller lists the week after it hit the market and we fought to keep it in stock. When the initial surge plateaued, I checked-out a copy.

Unlike the movie business, a book with a lot of hype does represent something larger about our culture in general. With movies, hype is generated by un-related factors: actors, special affects, prequals, etc., but with books, only plot or author-history contribute to the immediate public-demand (not mentioning the media promotion). And since authors typically write in a single genre and focus on niche themes, the plot is the only thing that separates one book from another (outside of writing styles which really only matter to English majors, English teachers, or writers). The Da Vinci Code has recorded unprecedented sales and can not be compared with anything other than maybe the Harry Potter series, or, ironically, the Bible (the best-selling book ever).

No, The Da Vinci Code is not a great book. If it ever hits a required reading list for a high school or college class, it will most likely do so because of it's success. Or, as a representative of our culture. And though a time-period can only really be defined years after the next time-period ends, there are generalizations that can be made now to be expounded upon later by sociology and anthropology teachers later.

Since 9/11 our lives have been dominated by a new reality. That morning saddened, then humbled Americans. No longer were we the untouchable super-power we all believed. Every day, we went to work assuming the building would be where we left it the day before. When we're there, we take for granted our security because of securtiy guards, cameras, and metal detectors. All this faith in our routine because it is routine.

Then, Dan Brown creates this story that questions the very foundation of Christianity - another faith rooted in routine - and the "masses" eat it up. Some believe the "facts" that Brown claims. Others call it blasphemy. Some, go to the bookstores and pick his other books. Some, pick up the books he referenced in The Da Vinci Code. Are any of these facts real? Does it matter? For every fact, there's a fact that can state the exact opposite. Can people tell the difference? Does that matter? The Church is not going to crumble because of this book. The Vatican will not close.

Working in a bookstore, I've had people tell me I should read the book before even asking if I had and I've had the people yell at me for keeping it in stock. That's an average day at work. If it's not The Da Vinci Code, it's something else. Right now, I have marijuana-growing manuals in my Gardening section and I have a book preaching intolerance in my Religion section. People have asked for and complained about both. Ten people in a single room, ten different opinions.

Is The Da Vinci Code the next Great American Novel - no. Is it's success a surprise - again, no. American culture is being shaken by the search for truth - change. Some are scared, some have their bags packed, and are ready to go. Like the Celestine Prophecy, which Dobbs mentions in his essay, The Da Vinci Code is an alternate to the reality we have all expected to be true. But neither book is necessarily the only alternative. People like their choices buffet-style. We will always reach for the freshest pot of mashed potatoes.