Monday, December 22, 2008

michael upchurch's year end booklist

local author, michael upchurch, writes for the Seattle Times. (full disclosure: he's also my uncle!) here is his year end book list this is one of his last official columns as "book critic", as he is now going to be working for the art's section in a more general capacity. in his own words:
Due to changes at the newspaper, I'm moving to a more general arts beat. I plan still to weigh in on books now and then, but it won't be with the intensity of the past 10 years. (Make that 22, if you count my freelance efforts.) It has been a great pleasure and privilege to discover new authors and rediscover old ones. I hope I've led readers to some worthy and memorable books in the past two decades.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Kind of Holiday Fun!

Now, I know this is a photo book and doesn't really constitute "reading,"
unless one considers the text of the image, the socio-cultural underpinnings of...

other than that,
still working on MOBY DICK, soooo close to finishing
re-reading RoseLee Goldberg's PERFORMANCE ART: From Futurism to Present
and wanna get my hands on this new book:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Modern Marvels: Jewish Adventures in the Graphic Novel

First things first Olympia bibliophiles: The Olympia Timberland Library is back up and running and the whole building is open starting today!

Today is also the first day of registration for a book discussion series that will start on Saturday afternoon, January 10th and continue every other Saturday for a total of five sessions.

Event Type: Adult Book Discussion
Date: 1/10/2009
Start Time: 2:00 PM
End Time: 4:00 PM
Description:Join local scholar Danny Kadden in a five-part reading and discussion series entitled "Let's Talk About It: Jewish Literature - Identity and Imagination." The series will explore the theme of "Modern Marvels: Jewish Adventures in the Graphic Novel." The first 25 registrants will receive free copies of the graphic novels to keep. Registration begins on Monday, December 15; call, 352-0595 or stop by the library’s information desk. This program was made possible by a grant from the American Library Association and Nextbook. The series begins January 10 with a discussion of "A Contract with God: And Other Tenement Stories," by Will Eisner.
Library: Olympia Timberland Library
Presenter: Danny Kadden

Each session will begin with a 15-25 minute lecture by local Jewish scholar, Danny Kadden, to be followed by a group discussion.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Gunatanamo Diary, The Detainess and the Stories They Told me, By Mahvish Rukhsana Khan

We all know that our government runs a high security detention center in Guantanamo Bay. It is located outside of the US so that our government does not have to comply with federal and state laws/regulations when dealing with the inmates. If you pay closer attention you realise that our government is depriving the detainees their basic human rights and if you look even closer you realise they are abusing/dehumanizing them and like me get really angry. This is how Mahvish felt, really angry. While attending law school in Florida she would spend her free time researching the situation at Guantanamo and bitch her boyfriend's ear off about it. She decided to do something about it. Being the daughter of Afghan immigrants and fluent in Pashto, she contacted several law firms that represented inmates at Gitmo and offered up her translation abilities. After connecting with lawyers that were grateful for her assistance she managed to pass the arduous FBI screening and gain access to the base. Over the course of the past few years Masvish meet with dozens of inmates and grew to know and befriend them. She was a native face that followed their customs and shared their culture. Mahvish earned their trust even after they all had endured being physically and emotionally abused for the better part of this last decade.

This has been the best book I've read this year. I was concerned about the weight of the subject, presuming it would be really hard to get through, but I actually found myself laughing out loud at times. Mahvish is a brilliant story teller. Yes the subject matter is heavy, but Mahvish balances the details of the horrific abuses at gitmo and bagram with anecdotal life stories of the detainees, experiences of the lawyers as well as the rich details of her incredible journey to Afghanistan.

She identifies as a feminist and a Muslim, a voice that needs a louder mic right now. She inspires me in her ability to look past peoples sexism and still have the compassion to help them. I also feel closer to knowing about the Afghan people. The Afghans are so dehumanized by our main stream media It was refreshing to hear an honest voice on the matter. I now empathize with them more. Thank You Mahvish for being so rad. I can't believe your not even 30 years old yet, WTF.

what i've been reading w/ reviews pt 1

as promised:

1. Life With My Sister Madonna by Christopher Ciccone (biography)

Christopher Ciccone (Madonna's real life brother) is a total asswipe for writing this book. I don't care how big of a money-grubbing, power-hungry bitch Madonna 'really is', you don't talk trash about your famous sister because she fires you and you want to stay in the rich and famous people world. Plus, it won't work! Writing an "exposé" doesn't make you an entertainer or an artist, it just makes you an exploitative parasite. Anyone reading this book who's not an idiot will realize that straight away. Rich, famous people might often be arrogant, selfish jerks, but their one vulnerability is they never know who they can trust because everyone is always relating to them through their image and wealth. To bear witness to someone's trusted family member committing a betrayal on this scale is to feel sick to your stomach. Don't read this book. Don't ask me why I did. (I'm a fan, I like to follow 'the myths') Just stay away. Its ugliness will infect you.

2. The Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw (graphic novel)

This book is like 1000 pages long. It's so long, yet I read it in two days I think. Graphic novels are like that, they reel you in. It's more like watching TV than reading a book, or maybe the point in the middle. Anyhow, don't let the size scare you, if you wanna finish it, you'll finish it. It's like Harry Potter in that way. Shaw's drawings are kinda cool, not really my style, but I like how simple they are. The story is from a male perspective (the author's own gender is what I'm referring to, not any of the characters) and is therefore kinda typical and limited in certain ways women are used to, but it is still pretty interesting storytelling.

The situation is three grown siblings coming back together to visit their parents one last time before they divorce. As most people know and experience at the holidays, when adults are reunited with their siblings and back in their parents home, they start to act like children. All the old psychological roles come back and, while painful and tedious, this experience can also be cathartic and revelatory and even change the way you live in your day to day life. If that sounds interesting to you, you might like this. I can see this getting on the nerves of some people I know though. It's 'universal' theme is from the brain of an unenlightened dude. Not that he's a dick necessarily, but we don't share the same understanding of reality. I'm used to it and would read more of his work. I think he'll get better at storytelling but will always be a (presumably straight) guy writing about being a guy from a guy's perspective uninterested in interrogating what any of that brings to his art. Don't say I didn't warn you.

3. The Democratic Forest -William Eggleston, Introduction by Eudroa Welty (photographs)

I saw this picture (of a tricycle shot from the p.o.v. of a child looking up at it) in the New York Times and went looking for more. It turns out this guy is hugely famous. I don't know anything about photography or visual art history, but it was cool looking at his work. He seems to be privileged and absorbed in aesthetics. I can look at this stuff for hours and hours. If someone has something more informed or can shed some perspective my way I'd be interested in hearing from you.

4. The Education of Hopey Glass by Jaime Hernandez (graphic novel)

Ok, so while I just made all these generalizations about male graphic novelists I have to say there are exceptions to what I'm trying to talk about, the Hernandez brothers being my favorite example.

Some women/feminists I know feel that the Hernandez brothers are not deserving of their reputation because they are (straight?) guys creating this world of (in my opinion, totally amazing) female/lesbian characters. I think this is absurd. Fiction writers and artists should be able to represent all of reality. The fact they are SOOOO good at representing women gives me faith in the power of the imagination. Plus their drawings are absolutely perfect. I could go on and on and will when I am more clear on what I'm trying to say.

In this story Hopey, who I love so much I almost consider her an (imaginary) friend, is on her own (no Maggie really) working with little kids. There is a cool flash back back to her own school days, which is really similar to those Archie and Jughead books where they are little kids. The story is really psychological and vivid and makes you understand her character better. It's told in flashback form and is definitely my favorite part of this book. I wanna xerox it so I guess I'll just probably end up buying the book. I know I'll wanna keep looking at it over and over again.

There is a little bit of creepy guy-world in this story that I can see getting bummed on, but whatever, it's Love and Rockets and it rules. It's like, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones or maybe The Stooges and Sex Pistols of comics. Male but so imaginative and expressive that you NEED IT in your life. If that makes you not like comics like those (awesome) bands make you not like rock-n-roll, we don't share the same worldview, so...don't listen to me but do go make your own band and graphic novel please! we need your work!

5. Twilight and New Moon by Stephanie Meyer (young adult fiction)

As noted here before, and as you must know by now, these are vampire books set in Forks, WA...the 'new harry potter' or whatevs. Well I was super into Twilight while I was reading it, but while it's interesting on a number of levels, it's not actually a good book and New Moon totally sucks. Don't go see the movie unless you are seeing it solely because it's set in the great northwest. It's really, really terrible.

Twilight is interesting because Bella (the heroine) is a normal (human) girl (as far as we know) who falls in love with Edward, a vampire, which causes all kinds of unsolvable problems and adventures. The story is tragic because in order for them to be together, she has to die and he doesn't want to kill her. If she dies she will become a vampire and they can be together eternally. If she lives her life as a human they will become farther apart in age and it will never work out. The other big tragedy is that she is really hot for him and he is afraid to make out with her because he might lose control and actually kill her, ie suck her blood and turn her into a vampire.

Basically the whole appeal of the story is explained on this basis: this is a story about female sexual desire that needs to be repressed. This can be read in a number of ways: abstinence only sex-ed, i.e. no sex before marriage, the promise keepers (the author is Mormon and reportedly conservative); 'the normalization of abuse" is another reading I've heard, which sounds pretty extreme to me--although Bella becomes suicidal because she wants Edward and has to die for her desire to be realized--so I guess it kind of makes sense--though in this case, 'death' is actually 'eternal life' without a soul, so if you are not religious it's not really 'suicide'. Regardless of your take on this, where in our culture is female sexual desire explored from the perspective of a teenager for other teenage girls to read? If this needs to happen in vampire-form, so be it.

There is some possible racism at work--the werewolf kids are native- Quileute-who are said to be descended from wolves--yet (as Joaquin pointed out) the vampires are of a European lineage. So you have the whole 'native-as-closer-to-nature' thing going on, as well as 'magic' and 'indians'. Supposedly there are actual Quiluete legends about wolves, including a creation myth, but it's still a little weird... I guess I'd have to do a little more research to get into deconstructing that aspect. The overt racialization (i might be using this word wrong) though is in all the talk about 'beautiful, pale skin'. Its like, get over it. It reminds me of my 'goth' friends putting sunscreen on claiming that there is nothing racist about wanting to stay 'as white as possible' in a world where people are devalued for having dark skin.

Did I say New Moon sucked? It really does. For some reason Bella has this problem where she always needs to be saved by a guy. This is the most blatantly sexist thing in the book and is inconsistent with her character--she is a pretty self-sufficient kid, an adult stuck in high school who has always taken care of herself and her parents. She makes her own decisions and doesn't need to rely on anyone. Yet, she always finds herself in mortal danger, needing a guy to save her. Give me a break. Unless they explain this somehow, the books will remain patriarchal and flawed in my view.

Still, hurray for all those young women lusting over these books. They are romances and adventurous and Bella is really cool. She reads Jane Austen! Enough said.

7.Olivia Forms a Band by Ian Falconer (children's picture book)

I gave this to Sophie for her birthday, who is 3 and reportedly a big Olivia fan. It's a story about a girl-pig who starts a band and dreams of becoming president. Neat drawings, cool story for little girls to read out loud with their moms.

I'll finish the rest of the list later.....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Andrej Grubacio Tonight




A talk by Andrej Grubacic at the Evergreen State College

Hosted by Students for a Democratic Society

7:00 on Friday, Dec. 12th in the Longhouse

Andrej Grubacic, an anarchist historian from the Balkans, will discuss the themes covered in his new book Wobblies and Zaptistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism, and Radical History. The book is composed of a series of conversations with lifelong activist and radical historian Staughton Lynd, offering “ the reader an encounter between two generations and two traditions…They meet in dialogue in an effort to bring together the anarchist and Marxist traditions, to discuss the writing of history by those who make it, and to remind us of the idea that ‘my country is the world.’ Encompassing a Left libertarian perspective and an emphatically activist standpoint…The book invites the attention of readers who believe that a better world, on the other side of capitalism and state bureaucracy, may indeed be possible.”

the bumpidee reader is not a book club, but...

there's a funny article about book clubs here

Today there are perhaps four million to five million book groups in the United States, and the number is thought to be rising, said Ann Kent, the founder of Book Group Expo, an annual gathering of readers and authors.

“I firmly believe there was an uptick in the number of book groups after 9/11, and I’m expecting another increase in these difficult economic times,” she said. “We’re looking to stay connected and to have a form of entertainment that’s affordable, and book groups are an easy avenue for that.”

i kind of miss having an actual book club, but i really couldn't figure out how to start one with the people i knew who actually would read the books...or agree to read the same books...or who would come to the book club meeting instead of endlessly rescheduling and procrastinating. i started the bumpidee reader as an alternative 'book club', but really, i miss the hang outs. i have vowed not to start any more organizations of any kind before i join ones that already exist (other than musical groups), so if there is a local book club i would consider joining it, if the books were interesting and the meetings were happening and the books were getting read. that shouldn't be too much to ask, should it? ha.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

what i've been reading

since i haven't had time to write about what i've been reading, i figured i'd just list them so i can maybe go back to it when things slow down.

books i finished recently

1. Life With My Sister Madonna by Christopher Ciccone (biography)

2. The Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw (graphic novel)

3. The Democratic Forest -William Eggleston, Introduction by Eudroa Welty (photographs)

4. The Education of Hopey Glass by Jaime Hernandez (graphic novel)

5. Twilight and New Moon by Stephanie Meyer (young adult fiction)

7.Olivia Forms a Band by Ian Falconer (children's picture book)

8. Loose Girl a Memoir of Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen (confessional memoir)

9. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama (talking book)

currently re-reading:

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

just started:

Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti (feminist theory)

in progress:

Working Sex: Sex Workers Writing About A Changing Industry Ed by Annie Oakley (essays)

It Was All Just Rock-N-Roll II: A Return to the Center of the Radio and Concert Universe by Pat O'Day (nw rock/music industry history)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

vacation reading: historical fiction, John Grisham, food and healing.

I just got back from a week long vacation and was able to indulge some of my current obsessions, historical fiction and food and healing. I also have a compulsive need to read John Grisham books on vacation and luckily his latest legal thriller is out in paperback. (I read the non fiction one a few vacations ago and... well... you can pass ha ha.) Anyway, here's a little about each of them.

The Virgin's Lover By Phillipa Gregory

Another silly one, this time about Queen Elizabeth and her supposed boyfriend and the plot to kill his wife and the chaos of her reign. I am gonna watch the Elizabeth movies again though!

The Appeal by John Grisham

This one was pretty tedious but there was a nice twist at the end which didn't result in a perfect tie up and I realized his books are pretty good about that. You think it's going to be some syrupy perfection and then although there is a positive outcome, it's not fantastic. I dig that. 

Now this was the mind blower. A really simply written but extremely thorough book that makes you feel smarter after every page. The first section looks at the health and longevity and lack of disease in cultures that have maintained their consumption of traditional foods and resisted the introduction of post agricultural revolution processes. Then it breaks down food production and the negative aspects of industrial farming and the positive aspects of naturally raised products.  Another section talks about nutrition as a healing strategy. It's all pretty awesome. The author is a naturopath influenced by Weston Price and is a big proponent of raw foods, not just raw vegetables but raw milk, organ meats, fish etc.. I feel rally psyched by a lot of what I learned from this book, now I just need to figure out how to include it in my life. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

the mysterious opera

clang! clang!

(click to enlarge the picture)

from Mondo Boxo, by Roz Chast