Monthly Archives: December 2012

For All Of You Readers Out There!

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It’s a few days after Christmas and I have enjoyed spending uninterrupted time with my family, eating rich yummy food as well as having some well-deserved lazy reading time. I love nothing more than the unscheduled time of flopping across a chair and becoming immersed in a REALLY good book.  Not everyone wants the over the top Christmas and New Years jubilations, especially me.  Christmas is an overachiever’s holiday and once it is over and the New Year is here,  I breathe a sigh of relief and feel proud that once again- I have survived Christmas.

So as the New Year approaches, I am thinking about some of the novels, essays and poetry I have read this year!

Novels

This year was INSANLY busy… I sold my house I lived in before I got married and my husband and I bought and moved into a new house- with two kids and two dogs and three cats in tow.   I traveled to a few cool places and the Museum was bustling with activity including dynamic art exhibitions.  It’s been a year of long days at work and few weekends off- as a result I didn’t read that many novels.  However, I did manage to read some pretty interesting stuff, here are a few:

  • Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) A review of this book on NPR completely hooked me.  I have a “guilty pleasure” love of a good mystery. For a voyeur like me, stories about dysfunctional families are CRACK but stories about dysfunctional marriages are an even better drug, especially when the novel is filled with so much psychological suspense.
  • The Cove (Ron Rash) Whenever I discover that Ron Rash has published a new novel, I either rush out to buy it or download it on Nook (yes, I own one of those evil devices).  He is one of my favorite novelists and poets.  In The Cove, the backwoods western North Carolina cove is where Laurel Shelton lives.  It is a place that was cursed long before the Shelton family settled there.  Rash creates a dark, spooky and forlorn atmosphere.  The setting is in Madison County North Carolina, a beautiful, mountainous and rural area.  This is a great book especially for anyone who enjoys reading a good love story.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson) This is a book that was made into a movie with a lot of hype around it, but then again, it doesn’t hurt having Daniel Craig as your main character.  I read this novel because I thought I should read it before I went to see the movie (which to date I haven’t yet seen).  I have to admit, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo captivated me.  It’s an “ugly” book and not kind to women but it is also smart, with a good story.  Lizabeth Salander is a damaged computer hacker with some serious intimacy issues.  This book has a lot of sexual politics, misogyny and a cold case that isn’t so cold.   Like a stray cat, Lizabeth is out there trying to survive.
  • Juliet Naked (Nick Hornsby) I read Hornsby’s novel, High Fidelity while working at a used book and vinyl record store years ago, so I felt I intimately knew those characters in High Fidelity since it is based on  record store employees. Like High Fidelity, Juliet Naked has an indirect focus on music and pop culture. The main characters are Annie and Duncan, a middle-aged couple, and Tucker Crowe, an aging musician in retirement. Annie and Duncan have a relationship-ending fight about the quality of Tucker Crowe’s new album, and Annie begins a correspondence with Tucker Crowe.  Juliet Naked is about regret- BIG, mid-life crisis level regret.  Annie and Duncan’s fight are really about the all too-quick passage of time and of wasted opportunities.

Short Stories

I read a lot of short story collections this year- Prefect reading for ME and my crazy schedule and life. The three collections I have selected below are all about Kentucky and North Carolina.  My two favorite places!

  • Kentucky Straight (Chris Offutt) This is actually a short story collection that I read a long time ago and decided to reread.   I love Chris Offutt.  He is the ultimate rambling man who was born in Morehead Kentucky, just up the road from Hazard.  Also for you True Blood fans, he also wrote some of the screenplays for that HBO series, but long before True Blood, Offutt wrote this short story collection.   If you like a good short story, great Southern writing, and want to be knocked on your butt by a writer’s sheer talent, then introduce yourself to Chris Offutt’s work.
  • Girl Trouble (Holly Goddard Jones) Jones is also a Kentucky writer but she hails from the western part of the state and is currently an English professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.   I can’t quiet remember how I discovered her work but I did read somewhere that Jones’ Girl Trouble, is a retellings of ancient Roman tragedies. All the stories are set in or just outside of the fictional town of Roma, Kentucky. Girl Trouble has many instances of physical violence, beatings, rape, killings of humans and animals alike, as well as emotional violence such as betrayal, punishment, and unkind words of the worst type—This book reads like classic tragedy, but the stories’ characters have a southern twang.
  • Let the Dead Bury their Dead (Randall Kenan) This is another book I reread.  It is set in Tims Creek North Carolina a fictional town in eastern North Carolina, governed by the rituals and rhythm of farming, something we know all about in the east.  Tims Creek reminds me of growing up in Hazard because to outsiders Tims Creek looks like a dull North Carolina backwater settlement.  The town was established by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders who are now farmers, shop owners, factory workers, and regular folks but Kenan makes clear in the telling of his thirteen stories, that nearly every dwelling in this fertile country houses a fascinating tale.  Kenan grew up Chinquapin, NC and his stories depict this unique haunted landscape.

Non-Fiction and Essays

Here are a few that I read this year.

  • Composed (Roseanne Cash) I love her music as well as her father and stepmother, so I decided to read Cash’s memoir. Rosanne Cash’s memoir is the testament to the power of art, tradition, and how all three transformed her life.  I love country music and good songwriters, so reading about Cash’s life was an easy and fun read.
  •  Townie (Andre Dubus III) I started reading Andre Dubus III because I liked his father, Andre Dubus’, short stories and –thought: “why not check out his cute son’s books”.  Dubus III is a great writer.  I recommend his fiction, but his memoir Townie is truly amazing.  His violent neglected childhood gives new meaning to the phrase my mom always says:  “jerked up” instead of raised.
  • Pulphead, (John Jeremiah Sullivan) Sullivan is an essayist whose work has been in various magazines over the years.  He writes extraordinary prose that contains offbeat insights about modern culture.  He is an incredible stylist and also a fellow Kentuckian, so I got to like him.  Also- if you happen to remember Axle Rose of Guns and Roses, then you will feel pretty darn sorry for Axel by the time you read Sullivan’s essay about him.

Poetry

Recent visits by two US Poet Laureates, Philip Levine and Natasha Trethewey -to the Greenville Museum of Art this past year rekindled my love of poetry.

  • What Work Is by Levine is a hymn of praise for all the workers of America.
  • Bellocq Ophelia by Tretheway is a book of poetry inspired by the photographer, John Bellocq’s 1900’s New Orleans portraits of prostitutes.

Online Stuff

Lastly, I dipped my toe into the waters of online journals this year.  Here are a couple of them that I like:

  • Still: The Journal   Contemporary literary writing of Central Appalachia, or the Mountain South

http://www.stilljournal.net/

  • Drafthorse A biannual online publication of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, visual narrative, and other media art where work, occupation, labor—or lack of the same—is in some way intrinsic to a narrative’s potential for epiphany.

http://www.lmunet.edu/drafthorse/

As the 2013 approaches, I am looking forward to discovering what this year will fetch, so bring on the GOOD BOOKS!!

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This One is a No Brainer

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My very smart and outspoken sister -in-law, Christina Cox,  wrote on her blog, The  Real Housewife of Santa Monica http://realhousewifeofsantamonica.com, a gripping essay about gun violence in America and her experience of being a teacher in South Central Los Angeles.   Her students dealt with violence and survival on a daily basis.

I am also a former public school teacher and over the years, Christina and I shared our common experiences as teachers, from funny stories about our students to tips on writing up creative and engaging lesson plans.   Like Christina, I was also surprised by how many of my young students (I taught visual art to high school and elementary school students) had been affected by the violent death of at least one family member by the time they graduated high school.  When Christina wrote about her Día de los Muertos project with her middle school students and their tributes to relatives who had violently died, this reminded me of teaching Portraiture to my high school students in Beaufort County. So many of my students chose to do a portrait of a relative who had passed away; many of their kinfolk had died through some violent random act.   Below is a repost from her website.

If you could hear a heart break…

Every day 8 kids under 20-years-old die from gun violence in America.

This weekend many of us feel helpless in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. Instead of just reminding one another to hug our children close with a “there but for the grace of God go I” mentality, we can support the parents and families of those lost in Connecticut, of those lost all over the U.S. due to gun violence. To honor the children and innocent victims who lose their lives EVERY SINGLE DAY due to gun shots in the inner cities whose deaths get less media attention due to their frequency and to “only” being one death instead of a mind blowing 20 child massacre. (Not to mention the adult victims who were mothers, fathers, daughters, sisters and aunts.)

To bring it closer to home, last July, 14 year old Unique Russell was shot during a 4th of July barbecue in South LA. That was by no means an isolated incident in her neighborhood.

Before I had kids, I taught 6th grade at John Muir Middle School in South L.A. Most of my students were used to hearing bullets whiz by outside, were not allowed out of their apartments after dark, and many had family members deceased from gunshots. I remember preparing for Day of the Dead, we were coloring masks to hang in the auditorium for the day’s celebrations. I gave them each a piece of stationary to write a letter to a anyone they had loved who was now deceased. In my naiveté I imagined letters to grand or great grandparents. What they wrote were letters to uncles, cousins, siblings and parents many killed by handguns. It was shocking to me, coming from a strongly middle & upper middle class community. I didn’t know anyone killed by gun violence. The celebration was not one of your typical Hallmark holiday celebrations, it was a genuine opportunity to honor and remember a loved one but it also hilighted a massive problem – the high number of gunshot deaths which were now being treated as an unavoidable “part of life.”

I bring up the urban gun deaths to shine the light broader on this subject. While we’re all shocked into action by this latest massacre, it’s actually been going on at an individual rate right under our noses.

Here are some arguments against gun control:
1. It’s not the time to discuss gun control.
2. Crazies will get guns illegally so upright citizens need guns to fight back & protect themselves.
3.The 2nd amendment protects our right to bear arms. It’s what the Founding Fathers wanted for us.
4. Mental illness is the problem, not guns.
5. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
6. It’s the violence in video games & movies that is responsible, not the right to own hand guns & semi automatic weapons.

Here are my refutes:
1. If not now, when? This is the PERFECT time to discuss gun control. Whenever a shooting happens we are told, “Now is not the time to discuss this.” and “Let the families bury their dead.” etc. However, please let us know when we CAN discuss it. If my child died at Sandy Hook last Friday, I think I’d want a massive public uprising.

2. What are the statistics regarding how often legally owned guns in the home have been used to successfully protect their owners? How many of those guns in the home have been involved in accidents? Then compare the numbers. Just Google “man accidentally shoots his own son.” for an idea.

Just last week a father accidentally shot his 7 year old son outside of the gun shop in a horrific tragedy. This man loved his child, was out shopping with him, never intended to use his gun on any humans and yet look what happened. Is there any hobby worth this?

3. The 2nd amendment was created when the country was new for militias. The US Army IS the current replacement for the militias. The US Army IS heavily armed. The police are heavily armed. (Let’s take a moment to admit that neither the US Army nor the police are always perfect with their arms at all times. Police brutality IS a huge issue that can’t be denied.)

4. Mental illness IS a massive problem. Constant budget cuts to mental health supports (education & treatment) are happening in front of us, under our noses. BUT, if a mentally ill person is UNable to access handguns & semi-automatic weapons, the damages will be resultantly less. (Excuse any poor grammar!) Why did Lanza’s mother have 2 handguns and a semi-automatic rifle in her house when she knew her son wasn’t right? Also, take for example the man in China who went on a rampage the exact same day as the Sandy Hook Massacre. While it is deeply troubling/shocking & horrific, and while the children, parents & community will never forget this, none of those children died. That’s a big difference – just ask the parents.

5. It IS the person not makes the gun kill people but what could the person do without the gun? They can use bombs but that is much less widespread, but much more difficult & requires a lot more time & prep that guns don’t. Bombs require much more planning than guns do. Would Lanza have done this had his mom not provided the weapons so handily? I even read today that she had taken both sons to shooting ranges so that they knew how to fire the guns. If he hadn’t had easy access to these weapons, would this have happened?

6. If video game/tv violence is responsible, someone please explain to me why Japan’s handgun deaths were in the double digits while ours in the US were over 10,000 last year. Bueller? Bueller?