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Wednesday, March 20, 2002
falling behind, again...

It seems as though there's just no time for much of anything these days, much less reading or writing about what I've been reading. I did finish Half a life on Friday the 15th, though. It was not my cup of tea. But I did like the ending, which was rather abrupt, because I was ready to close its covers for good. I really wonder who "decides" that books are award winning, etc. I'm sure the choice is more political than aesthetic. I'm not just talking about this book, but many "award-winning" books are not all that; they're certainly not books that I would pick, nor are they to my taste. So who are those with "taste" who tells the rest of us what is good? Well, it's so arbitrary and subjective, perhaps book awards should be done away with.

I finished reading Michelle Brattain's Politics of whiteness: race, workers, and culture in the modern South over the weekend. Although it was difficult for me to get into and really quite odious reading at times, I quite enjoyed it. I feel as though I have a firm grasp on labor, race and conflict in the Rome, Georgia textile mills. It was really difficult reading for me though and I'm not quite sure why. Normally I will read with music playing or the TV on in the background, but I had to cloister myself in a silent room to truly concentrate on the text. Several times in my reading I actually lost my place and would read over paragraphs and pages again and again before truly digesting the text. I found the experience quite a departure from my usual reading experience because normally I don't have any problems reading non-fiction.There really was so much information to digest. But it's really quite an excellent book. Well-researched and well-written as well. It's not typically dry as academic books go, but it is ceratinly not something to casually read on a train, in a plane, or at the beach. Brattain comfirmed something that I'm coming to understand more and more about history and life in general: there is no standard experience or universal model; you can't just apply blanket statements or judgements about anything. There exists within each region or movement or whatever, many layers and differences, the old myths don't hold true. The old ways of categorizing events, issues, people just don't work. History in particular has concentrated more on developing over-arcing generalizations, well in general but then also regionally, or racially (is that even a word?), instead of really delving into the details, reseraching and discovering that things are not as they seemed.

So sorry, I shall climb down from my stump at this point. Oh, one last thing that was quite interesting about the book is that my favorite library school professor's father was mentioned in the book on several pages. While I knew that James V. Carmichael, Jr. was from Georgia, I had no idea that his father ran in the gubernatorial race in 1946. JVC, Sr. was a lawyer and owned a furniture plant as well. The William Russell Pullen Library at Georgia State University contains infromation about Carmichael in their Special Collections & Archives (Georgia Politics, 1946-48) as does the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory.

These are the contents at Emory: CARMICHAEL, JAMES VINSON, 1910-1972 (#576) Papers, 1913-1982; 89 boxes, 71 OP, 4 BV, 24 OBV, 1 OH Carmichael, a Marietta resident, served as the president of Scripto, Inc. (1947-1964), as general manager of the Georgia Division of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (1951-1952), and as a member of the Georgia legislature (1936-1940). He also ran for the governorship in 1946 and was active in Atlanta civic and social organizations. The collection includes correspondence, speeches, legal documents, financial documents, clippings, photographs, and memorabilia regarding Carmichael's business and political careers, his service on various committees and advisory councils, as well as some personal and family material. The collection also includes material on the Atlanta Art School and the Atlanta Arts Alliance. So there's your Georgia history lesson for the day.

I'm reading MK Wren's Gift upon the shore now. It's post-apocolyptic, and the chapters are arranged so that one is in the present and the next one is in the past. I don't really like that set-up, but what can one do? So far the story is moving along at a quick pace, and I'm eager to discover the secrets in the story. Mary is living at the Oregon coast when "THE END" comes; nuclear war. She and her housemate survived nuclear winter & it's 2 years later. They just travelled about 200 miles in two weeks time searching for other survivors. No luck, but we know eventually there are other people because Mary tells her story to a young man who lives at her compound, which has sort of been taken over by a fringey christian group. I'm interested to see how that all happened.I'll finish that up in a day or so.

Also started reading Crandall Shiflett's Coal Towns: Life, Work and Culture in Company Towns of Southern Appalachia,1880-1960. Really quite interesting as well, though I think that the Brattain book really helped me understand a lot about company towns, organized labor, and issues of class and race. This one will really be a breeze. It's completely easy to read. And its so grand that I already know exactly what boosterism, paternalism, and the New South creed are.

Yesterday I recevied a book I ordered (Reel Knockouts Violent Women in the Movies --here's an editor), and I can't wait to get started on it, but it will have to wait a while as I have several library books that I'm already obliged to read.

And I'm off, it's lunchtime!

Tuesday, March 12, 2002
more about Polar

I meant to include this information in my last post, but the fact that I had the book in my valise completely slipped my mind. Besides the local color bent of the characters, Pearson didn't dimish any librarian stereotypes in his portrayal of Mrs. Hartman. However, before I deal with that, there's something else interesting that precedes the library parts...the Christian bookstore. While I only frequent Christian bookstores but once or twice a year, I cannot say that Pearson's impressions are valid or invalid.

He writes on page 136: The mystery and wonder of that place is that there are hardly even customers about, and yet those zealots manage somehow to keep that bookstore open. They don't stock, after all, the sorts of goods that people are likely to clamour for. Most Christians in these parts get their embossed Bibles at church confirmations, and there simply can't be much call for devotional poems lacquered onto cedar plaques whic hlieaves trinkets and sigh-of-the-fish insignias for the trunk flange of cars, stationery emobssed with uplifting flotsam of talk from the lips of our Lord and calendars featuring soft-focus photographs of assorted earthly splendors accompanied each by syrupy prayerful scraps of verse. Accompanied by Kit, an African-American kung fu forestry agent, Ray--our hero--visits this only bookstore in town to purchase a world atlas. It fails him as it is only a Biblical atlas, thus the need to visit the public library arises.

About shushing he says: Kit was railing still as they parked in the library lot and entered the building proper where she got shushed straightaway by that Hartman woman who pretty much runs the place even though there was nobody but the three of them there.

He writes more about the library on page 137: Our local library rivals that Chrstian bookstore for wholesale desolation, can't raise a crowd even though they're essentially giving the merchandise away. A fellow can even take out a movie with his library card, but Mrs. Hartman choses the videotapes herself and is partial to saccharine melodramas and nature programs about cats. She won't subscribe to any newspapers that a sensible person would read, and she only take magazines like Redbook, Woman's Day and Southern Living, so there are better periodicals about in the waiting room at the muffler shop.

There are a few more paragraphs detailing the events within the library, but it's not until p. 185 that we hear the last of Mrs. Hartman: Ray was reading one evening that book on explorers he'd not returned to the library notwithstanding the chief's directive and uncharitable talk from Mrs. Hartman who tended to take book-borrowing habits as the measure of a man.

Although I'm glad that Pearson included the library in his book, I shudder to think that this is his impression of librarians, and that he's perpetuating a myth! The mythic librarian. Sigh.....I could sigh all day long but that wouldn't change a thing. Librarians need a revolution, we could prove our mettle.

I didn't get a chance to read anymore of Naipaul's book, but hope to finish it up by this weekend for sure.

Monday, March 11, 2002
courtney, being good, and other stuff

I have been reading regularly. I just haven't had the time to write about it. When I have had time, the server doesn't seem to want me to leave an entry, so my attempts have been foiled for a week. Early last week I finished the Courtney Love bio. It was good, and I learned more about her than I already knew, but really, not so much more. I wished it was meatier. I understand that she's just 30-something, so maybe there's not a whole lot that can be written about her life at this point, but I really wanted one of those thick densely packed biographies that you find about Edna St. Vincent Milay or Churchill. Courtney really isn't in the same league at those folks, but.... I like her just the same. Most surprising is that she is quite a reader, and I really wish that Brite delved more into Love's literary influences and reading patterns and all that.

While still in Courtney mode I started Grrrls: Viva rock divas (sorry I couldn't find any reviews, so it's just an amazon link, yech!), and read most of her entry, but haven't picke the book up again to read about all my other favorite women rockers.

I also started MK Wren's Gift upon the shore, a sci-fi mystery hybrid, but have only read about a chapter in it.

I had been reading on Polar for about a week, and finally finished it Friday. I liked TR Pearson's perspective/point of view and the way he approached his characters, but it was awful hard to struggle through the thing. I didn't think I'd have much trouble because I really enjoyed his previous book, Blue Ridge.

Then of course I totally thought that Nick Hornby's How to be good would make a great movie. I'm wondering who would be cast in those parts. Hornby's book has such a good message, actually there are several, and I will have to think about them some more before really analyzing them in depth here. Great book though, highly recommended!

John Colapinto's About the author was surprisingly good. It's not that I doubted that it would be good, but my luck selecting leisure reading recently has been bad. It was refreshing and a tight little mystery, well.... not really a mystery, but close enough. It was a fun read, that's for sure. And now I know why his name sounds familiar, he's the one who wrote that As nature made him that I heard about on NPR.

I'm almost through reading VS Naipaul's Half a life, and though I am enjoying it, I somehow am quesitoning why it won a Nobel Prize. Perhaps I'll better understand once I've completed the book. It's not my favorite, that's for sure, but the story is well written, it flows well. The characters are somewhat intruguing, but his female characters lack depth and are purely incidental to the story. But what else is new, eh? Time to blow this popsicle stand and get home for some quality reading time!

Monday, March 4, 2002
a southern classic?

I checked out Tobacco Road several months ago intending to read it. It's really quite thin so it should have been a breeze to read through. I read five or six chapters and could not stand to read any more of the book. It was quite dreadful. I understand that it was written in 1932, I think, but Caldwell's rambling style and characters were too much for me. The characters, especially the main one, Jeter Lester constantly repeated himself. The same stuff over and over about turnips and other crap. It is the story of the Lesters, a family of destitute white sharecroppers debased by poverty to an elemental state of ignorance and selfishness. I really could not endure it. I cannot belive that it was named as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the century, as chosen by the editorial board of the Modern Library. Without the woodcut illustrations, I couldn't quite realize that the hair-lipped Lester girl was committing a sexual act with her brother-in-law in the dusty area in front of the house.

Although I usually enjoy books about Appalachia, At home in the heart of Appalachia was quite boring and hard to remain interested in. Part memoir, part local history, and part Appalachian history, John O'Brien's book was rather odd. Although he self-identified as a native Appalachian, he kept making all sorts of remarks about how "they" believe this and "they do that and "their" mannerisms are thus and so. He was quite contradictory. Overall the book would have worked better as a collection of essays. I found I was most interested in reading the sections in which he mentioned the Woodlands Institute, which now is called The Mountain Institute. As the Woodlands Institute it created much tension in the community because the folks who were running it were outsiders who thought they knew the best way to revitalize the community. Just one more attempt of outsiders treating Appalachia as a missionaty outpost. Quite dreadful, indeed.

I wasn't particluarly happy with Best friends, either. I kept waiting for something to happen, and when they finally did, it didn't seem like much of a big deal. It was a nice story of a lifelong friendship between two women, but I've read better. Perhaps I will like Martha Moody's next book more. I may keep her in mind for future reading, but this book was really quite average.
I need to read a good book soon. I hate to spend so much time reading just barely average books. I crave great recommendations. Or, I should just be better at picking them. I hope that I'll come across one very very soon.