Posts Tagged ‘150-199 pages’

11. “Butch is a Noun,” S. Bear Bergman

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Memoirs of butchness.

This took me a very long time to read, especially for such a slim book. It really resonated with me and the complex gender I live. Bergman performs a chivalristic butchness that is aware of how problematic it can be for a masculine-gendered person to want care for feminine-gendered people.  Ze talks about hir love of femmes, on having hir butchness nurtured by femmes, on getting to nurture young butches. It’s all touching and left me with a lot to think about. I’d recommend it, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it took you a few months to plod though, too (or if you read it in an hour).

Page count: 192

Page total: 3,001


66. “Almost Home: My Life Story, Vol 1,” Damien Echols

October 9, 2010 4 comments

Damien Echols is one of three West Memphis teenagers tried and wrongfully convicted in the murder of three children. This book tells about Damien’s childhood, his constant harassment by the police department, the conditions of his imprisonment, his conversion to Zen Buddhism, and his marriage.

It just so happened that I read two books at the same time about the great shame of the US prison system. Damien contends that the reason that he was targeted by the police for these “Satanic” murders is that he was a poor outsider who wore black and had been hospitalized for a mental illness. Ever since an incident at work where they called the police on a woman who was obviously mentally ill, I’ve been bumping up against the entwining of the prison and mental health systems.

This was written on the endpages of the book:

A prison guard is life’s ultimate coward. They lack the bravery to be police officers and they have no balls when it comes to be a criminal. They are a parasite that sucks off both worlds. Read Titicut Follies, a documentary/book made by Harvard U students. A Film/book the “system” faught hard to consedle. Than draw your own conclusions. They walk a “cowards journey.”
The night before my release from MCI Bridgewater six guards entered my tiny cel in the middle of the night. They smelt of alcohol. They spit on me and tried to entice me, to respond, so I would looze my parole/release the following day. I sat on my bunk, my head down, and got punked off by my keepers. I walked out of Bridgewater the next day. That was Nov 2, 1989.
I can still smell the first guard who spit on me’s cologne.
Justice, ya right.
It’s now Sept 08.
Cheap cologne.

Pages: 168
Total pages: 19,017

64. “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald

September 25, 2010 Leave a comment

My class read this book in high school. Here’s what I remember: there’s a guy named Gatsby who has a big house and big parties. There’s something about an egg. It’s very dusty and there might be a dog. Someone gets hit by a car. I think she was fat and named Myrtle and maybe someone was having an affair with her.

In retrospect, I might not be as great at absorbing books from context as I thought.

Page count: 180

58. “The Pleasure of my Company,” Steve Martin

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Daniel Pecan Cambridge is torn between four women: his neighbor Rachel, whom he has been secretly drugging with doctored smoothies meant to calm the actress’s nerves before auditions; his social worker (or is it is therapist?) Clarissa, who visits Daniel in his home twice a week, providing the structure around which he builds his time; Zandy, the friendly pharmacist who fills his prescriptions and his beloved Rite-Aid; and Elizabeth, a fakey, bleach-blonde real estate agent trying to sell units in the over-priced condo across the street from Daniel’s home.

I came across this title on a disabilities book list, which described Daniel as having OCD. Reading expecting that, I was confused, as he reminded me more of Daniel Tammet in his memoir “Born on a Blue Day.” Assuming that the Publisher’s Weekly review is correct and Daniel has both OCD and autism (or Asperger’s), this book is subtley crafted. If Daniel’s meant to have just OCD, I’d suggest that Martin do a bit more research, as Daniel is heavy on obsessive “quirks” like requiring the combined wattage of the light bulbs in his home to add up to 1,125, but lacking in the tension that necessitates these obsessions be carried out.

Daniel makes for an irreverent, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants narrator, aware when he’s doing “abnormal” things, but not caring or feeling the need to explain why. Just when it starts to get old, Daniel starts to find his routine challenged by new opportunities opening up for him– opportunities that stem directly from some choices that he has made for himself.

(Yes, that Steve Martin.)

Page count: 164
Page total: 15,781

52. “Hair Story: The History of Black Hair in America,” Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps

July 29, 2010 Leave a comment

A historical and cultural examination of the meanings assigned to Black hair in the US.

This was a really interesting and enlightening book. I did have some understanding of Black hair care (and myths, mythos, superstitions, and general bullshit) before reading, but this book was lush with first-person accounts and extremely balanced in its reporting of history and the meanings of history.

When I was younger, I had long, very textured and curly hair and if left to its own devises, my hair would dred a little. But this book really argues that it’s not the hair itself as much as it is the history of the hair that makes it so fraught. In most West African societies in (and long before) the 1600s, hair care and styling was incredibly ritualized, with different hair styles holding symbolic meaning and the creation and upkeep of them a cultural affair. When Africans were kidnapped and enslaved, their kidnappers shaved their heads, stripping them of their identities. After months in the belly of slave ships, they emerged with dirty, matted hair incomprehensible to their slavers. In a new continent, new climate, and inhuman (not merely inhumane) conditions, slaves had to come up with new ways of caring for, or more often, merely taming or containing their hair.

Enter the hot comb, grease, do-rags, followed up by relaxers, braids, Afros, Jerri Curl, weaves, cornrows, perms, dreds, and blow-dryers.

Along the way, White people, of course, have had a lot of shit to say about Black hair, such that smooth, silky, combable hair becomes good hair, worthy of both envy and derision, and textured, kinky hair is “bad” hair (but sometimes afforded a sort of grudging respect at particular political moments).

I mentioned my own hair earlier because it has always been kind of difficult for me to understand why many Black people are quick to snap that their hair is not curly, it’s kinky and that White people don’t really have dreds even when they, well, have dreds (because White hair usually requires intervention to make it dred, while kinky Black hair doesn’t). But reading this book helped me to understand the cultural meaning of kinky hair and how it probably feels like white washing to have it euphemized by White folks as curly. And White surfers with dreds, or me pointing out that my hair used to have a lot of texture, too, definitely smacks of appropriation of an extremely loaded topic by someone who simply doesn’t get the same cultural baggage with the hairstyle.

So, as I said, a really interesting book, and, I think, a good one for White people to read. Because the average Black person definitely knows more about caring for White hair than the average White person knows about caring for Black hair and that’s not comfortable to me.

Since it’s my favorite axe to grind with this genre, there were a few organizational/editing problems, though. Parts of it were set up almost like a magazine with vocab lists, profiles of five Black men who changed hair, a bio of Jesse Jackson (I didn’t know that his bouffant was originally cut and styled by his mentor and surrogate father James Brown, who made him promise to wear his hair like that until Brown died), and other interesting asides, but they are plopped in sort of randomly. Also, the time line kind of jumped around so that it wasn’t always in historical order, or we’d get an in-depth profile of Madam CJ Walker and her business and then, twenty pages later, have her explained again.

Overall, a solid B+.

Page count: 198
Page total: 14,376
Call number: E185.86.B96 2001x

18. “The Wisdom of Big Bird,” Caroll Spinney

March 24, 2010 1 comment

I expected this book to be closer to what the title implies: cheesy bits of wisdom wrung from Sesame Street quotes. Instead, it was a thoughtful little memoir about Spinney’s puppetry career and life on the Street.

I thought the bit about Jim Hansen’s funeral was particularly touching. Spinney counted Hansen as one of his heroes even before being asked to join Sesame Street and became friends with him during his tenure. Hansen was renowned for his incredibly elaborate parties and apparently Hansen had said years before that at his funeral that people should wear bright colors and tell happy stories. His celebration (to use Spinney’s term, which is great) was open to the public and thousands of people came for it. People sang “It’s not Easy Being Green.”

I have always felt that my family does funerals right. Though I’ve fortunately been to only a few of them, we usually eat a lot and tell a lot of stories, which I like. When I was quite young, I went with my mom and her best friend, Bev, to the mall because Bev needed to buy a new dress for a funeral. I remember her talking about how cruel and ridiculous it is to make people who are grieving go out to buy new clothes, a chore that sucks under the best of circumstances. She declared that when she died, she wanted everyone to come in jeans, which always made sense to me. You go as the person you lost knew you. You go as the person they loved.

(Also, Bev decided to simply tuck in the tags on her dress and return it after the service, because she wasn’t dropping money on a black dress she wouldn’t wear again. Which is so Bev.)

So I was already predisposed to like Hansen when Spinney quoted from a letter Hansen had left one of his sons: “Be good to each other. Love and forgive everybody.” Which seems just like something Vonnegut would write to his son, and seems fitting advice from the most famous puppeteer in the world, a man who used that craft to teach children the alphabet and compassion.

Spinney says that he was struck with the importance of teaching children to be compassionate when he was walking home from the studio one night and passed a man standing in the snow, shuffling his feet on the corner of the curb. He initially brushed past the man, thinking he was homeless or drunk or dangerous, but when he glanced back, he saw it was an old man. He asked if the man was okay and the man responded that he was scared to step off the curb because it was icy and he might fall. (I’ll give your heart a minute to break.) Spinney walked the man home and the following day went to the producer about his idea for using Big Bird to teach children to be compassionate, which is obviously a tall order. Spinney resolved to simply be compassionate as Big Bird and make sure the Bird’s heart was always in the right place. Which has surely worked.

It seems also that Spinney is responsible (at least in part) for making the muppets into child-like characters. Originally, Big Bird was a “hillbilly” or “yokel” character, but when Spinney got a script about Big Bird wanting to be able to go into a daycare with the human children, Spinney realized that that action doesn’t make sense unless Big Bird is another kid.

While my favorite Sesame Street character is and always will be Oscar the Grouch (also played by Spinney), I have a special place in my heart for Big Bird. When I was little, my sister and I had a ViewMaster of “Follow that Bird,” and for some reason, Big Bird makes me feel close to her.

Pages: 154

Page total: 4,238

11. “The Deep End of South Park,” Leslie Stratyner and James R. Keller

January 25, 2010 2 comments

So, I love South Park. There, I said it. I think it is so funny. I defy you to watch “The List” and not giggle when they say “sparkles!” It is one of those shows that you put on and turn your brain off.

But I can at least feel a little better about myself now that I have read this collection of super-smart essays about it. (See that right there? That’s what we in academia call a “transition.”) I gotta be real with you about something, though. I still do not understand the damn point of theory. I just want to say smart things myself and I am cool with talking about smart things other people said and giving credit for where my ideas come from, but when people want me to talk about Foucault like he has all the answers, that’s when I start getting annoyed. So when people ask me to use a theory, I’ll use it, but I always sort of just feel like I am jumping through hoops. And then I get mad about being a pretty little lion of their circus of cannonized, institutionalized power.

This post got off topic real fast there, but it was kind of in the back of my head the whole time I was reading.

That and that I love when academics get to use fart jokes in their titles. Because you KNOW they love when they get to.

Page count: 192
Page total: 2,539